Last week, Republican New York state senator Terrence Murphy introduced a bill that would make it legal to register and monitor refugees entering the state. The move was opposed by refugee advocacy groups, who called the proposed legislation “heinous” and said that it only stigmatized refugees further.
The bill, S6253-2015, has been a long time in the making and is cosponsored by a variety of Republican and independent senators. In a post on the New York Senate’s website last December, Murphy wrote, “The provisions of the bill allow New York to create its own mechanism to properly vet and monitor individuals seeking asylum within the state’s borders while continuing necessary humanitarian efforts.” His bill was a criticism of the federal government’s current screening process, which was characterized as having insufficient screening measures, despite the Obama administration’s step-by-step breakdown of how Syrian refugees are granted asylum in the U.S.
Murphy’s bill calls for the homeland security and emergency agencies to make plans with refugee agencies to monitor refugees for either a year or until they are given permanent residency by American immigration authorities. The bill proposed “requiring refugee resettlement agencies to submit quarterly reports to the bureau of refugee and immigrant assistance and requiring such agencies to monitor refugees for a certain period of time.” This is in addition to the two years of background checks performed by the federal government before refugees can even set foot in the country.
But exploring the bill reveals the same wrongheaded justifications used by other Republican governors and politicians who have vowed to keep Syrian refugees out of the country since the Paris attacks in November. The attackers were almost entirely European citizens who slipped back into Europe undetected. Of those who made it into the country posing as refugees, they took advantage of the European Union’s mismanaged handling of the refugee crisis. That in itself is a huge difference between the attacks in Paris and the likelihood of a Paris-style attack in the U.S.: it’s simply not as geographically close to hotbeds of extremism.
Furthermore, if terrorists were dressing up as refugees and entering the U.S. to commit attacks, it would’ve happened already. This country has accepted 2 million refugees since 1990 and yet not a single terrorist attack has been attributed to any of them. Anti-immigrant groups, on the other hand, have carried out numerous terrorist attacks over the same period. The same applies in Europe, which took in over a million refugees last year and has suffered a single attack which involved refugees, though the vast majority of conspirators in Paris were European.
The New York Immigration Coalition responded critically to the proposed legislation. “In places like Rochester and Buffalo where larger refugee populations have been settled, we have seen these communities help grow the economies of these localities,” read the group’s statement. “The ‘special registration’ called upon by this bill does not “protect” anyone, but puts up more red tape and ostracizes refugees.”
The New York bill is not the only one under consideration by state legislatures. In South Carolina, a similar bill is being proposed, along with civil liabilities for sponsors of refugees from Syria, Sudan and Iran who end up committing a terrorist act. “If it is not illegal, it is at least un-American,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the AP. That law may face a legal challenge, though, because it discriminates against people of a specific national origin.
Meanwhile, New York’s own refugee registration law is being reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee, where if approved, it will go to the state legislature for a vote. State Democrats, whose leaders have already pledged support for Syrian refugees entering the state, are most likely to oppose it.
Photo by: Jim Bowen/Flickr