The proposal to reopen a resettlement agency in Missoula is surrounded by a lot of misinformation, especially in regard to Syrian refugees, and I feel the need to address some fallacies that are continuing to drive the conversation.
We cannot request, nor have we requested, to resettle a specific population of refugees, such as Syrian refugees. In fact, due to the low numbers of Syrian refugees that have made it through the vetting process and the fact that there are other cities that are already better equipped to resettle them, it is highly unlikely that Missoula will be chosen as a location to place Syrian refugees. With input from community stakeholders, the International Rescue Committee has set a sustainable goal of around 100 refugees per year. There are many numbers flying around that are nowhere near this, and may have been what sparked a Ravalli County commissioner to state that he is against "any kind of mass immigration from wherever." The fact is, opening a resettlement office in Missoula to resettle a handful of families per year from areas all over the world is far from a "mass immigration" to Missoula, let alone Ravalli County.
We also have to define refugee. Some people are using the term "refugee" to speak about the migration that is currently happening in Europe. The people traveling to Europe are asylum seekers and do not go through the same processing that refugees go through. Only United Nations registered refugees are considered for placement in the U.S. Someone who has fled Syria and traveled to Europe is not a U.N. registered refugee and therefore does not qualify to come to the U.S.
On top of this, less than 1 percent of refugees worldwide are recommended for third country resettlement. The majority are assisted in returning home or integrating into the local communities where they registered as a refugee. About 1/2 of this 1 percent will be resettled in the U.S., and these refugees have been prioritized based on need and vulnerability. The U.S. has the honor of being able to accept and assist some of the most persecuted people in the world through this priority-based system. This includes children with chronic medical conditions, the elderly, single mother households, LGBT refugees and victims of torture. People should really know that when they are fighting against refugees being allowed in their communities, they are fighting against these people. They are not fighting against migrants in Europe, radicals coming here on student visas or other types of immigrants, but are fighting against individuals and families who have not only lost all worldly possessions and many of their loved ones, but who are facing additional struggles beyond what we can even imagine.
It has been said that these refugees are "un-vetted"; that we are not able to vet Syrians and that FBI Director James Comey has said as much himself. This is not true. He has said that there are challenges with the databases in Syria, but that "we have gotten much better as an intelligence community at joining our efforts and checking our databases in a way that gives us high confidence." On top of this, the database check is only one step in an 18- to 24-month multi-step process that involves four federal agencies and includes, among other things, multiple biometric screenings, medical evaluations, in-person interviews by trained staff, cultural orientation and the checking of databases. It is absolutely the most rigorous screening that anyone goes through to get into this country. (See: www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states.)
Director Comey stated, "The good news is we are much better doing it than eight years ago. The bad news is, there is no risk-free process." In fact, there never has been a risk-free process, yet America has resettled over 3 million refugees since 1975 and not one of them has committed an act of terrorism on U.S. soil. I would say that that kind of track record is a pretty good indication of the thoroughness and success of the stringent U.S. vetting process.
Missoula has decades of history taking in refugees. Our city is enriched and strengthened by this diversity. Assisting refugees to find a new home in Missoula is something we can safely and successfully do again.