President Obama’s initiative to admit 10,000 refugees from Syria this year has generated fierce debate on Capitol Hill, but since 9/11, the United States has taken in almost 10 times as many Somali refugees.
According to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the country has resettled 8,619 refugees from the impoverished, war-torn African nation in the fiscal year that ends this month. That brings the total since fiscal year 2002 to 97,046. Most are law-abiding residents, but some have turned against their new country, including the man accused of stabbing 10 people at a Minnesota mall on Saturday.
“The threats should be at least as concerning.”
Ian Smith, an investigative associate with the Immigration Reform Law Institute, said the limitations in screening refugees from Syria apply to Somalia. Both nations are mired in civil war. Both have barely functioning governments that make extensive background checks difficult or impossible. Both have large populations of Muslims, a portion of whom adhere to an extreme interpretation of Islam.
“The threats should be at least as concerning,” he said.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Dahir Adan was born in Kenya to Somali parents and came to the United States as a refugee with his family when he was three months old. He stabbed 10 people at the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, reportedly asking victims if they were Muslim. An off-duty police officer shot him dead before he could stab other people.
It is exactly the sort of incident that critics of the refugee resettlement program have warned could happen. Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who chairs the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, has called a hearing for Wednesday to review the program. He blasted the Obama administration for failing to make witnesses available for questioning.
“The Department of State claims that not one official is available to appear at tomorrow’s scheduled hearing due to this week’s United Nations General Assembly and Summit for Refugees and Migrants,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services have also refused to attend tomorrow’s hearing in a strange display of bureaucratic solidarity with the Department of State’s indefensible decision. The American people deserve explanations about the administration’s reckless plans to admit 110,000 refugees beginning on Oct. 1, 2016.”
In the case of Somalis, terrorism concerns are more than hypothetical. Aside from the mall stabbing, information gathered by Sessions’ subcommittee staff indicates that five Somalis admitted as refugees have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of 2014. An additional 15 Somalis admitted through other immigration programs also committed terror-related crimes.
[lz_table title=”Somali Refugees” source=”Department of Homeland Security”]Fiscal year,Number
“We most definitely should be concerned about people coming from Somalia, too, because there have been people detected as a genuine threat,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies.
Kyle Shideler, director of threat information at the Center for Security Policy, said U.S. officials face similar challenges in screening refugees from both countries.
“But Syria is a unique case in that it is being pushed very aggressively by this administration,” he said. “And then, of course, there’s [the] Islamic State and [the] Islamic State’s explicit call that they would exploit these programs.”
Vaughan noted that large numbers of Somali refugees and their relatives have clustered in communities in Minnesota. That makes a lot of sense, she said, because people naturally want to live near people with familiar heritage and culture. But it can have negative consequences, she added.
“That clustering also makes it less likely they’ll start to assimilate and that their kids will be exposed to different ideas, different cultural norms,” she said.
[lz_table title=”Somali Refugees Convicted of Terror” source=”Senate Subcommittee on Immigration”]Defendant,Date Convicted
Issa Dorch,February 2003
Omar Mohamed,October 2005
Nuradin Abdi,July 2007
Mohamud Yusuf,November 2011
Ahmed Mohamud,February 2013
Vaughan said her great-grandmother came to the United States from a small town in what is now Slovakia and never learned English. And her great-aunt ran a speakeasy during Prohibition. So the transition to Americanism has not been smooth in earlier waves of mass immigration, she said.
“What’s different is I can’t recall a time when so many people were engaged in terrorism aimed at the United States,” she said.
Vaughan said it would be foolish to ignore the role of Islam in that. She said young Muslims growing up in immigrant families do not turn to extremist organizations for no reason. Someone has to recruit them. Often, she said, it is radical imams. She pointed to seven terrorism plots — including the Boston Marathon bombing — associated with members of a single mosque in that city.
Vaughan said America has changed the way it deals with newcomers. Public schools in the early 20th century rigorously inculcated American values in young immigrants. That is less the case today, she added.
“Part of it has to do with the fact that our institutions that once had success in assimilating immigrants, for the most part, no longer see that as a responsibility,” she said.