As we gather with our families and loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am reminded of the many blessings in my life. My most precious treasures are all of the children who have been a part of my life over the years.
I am fortunate to have three beautiful, articulate, resourceful, and resilient daughters, and two handsome, articulate, resourceful, and resilient sons. I gave birth to two of them and gained the other three through marriage, a grandson who brings me nothing but joy, 2 nieces and 3 nephews who I never get to see often enough, 4 boys who were entrusted to me for their care by the State of NH’s foster care system, and the hundreds of children who I taught or cared for in my 20 plus years in early childhood education.
My life has been blessed because of children. I cannot imagine it any other way.
That is why it has been so distressing the past two weeks to hear the fear and anxiety that many have about the Syrian refugees being directed at the children. Over 2 million Syrian children have sought refuge in neighboring countries according to Save the Children Federation. Most are in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. More than 7,000 children have been killed. Children affected by the Syrian conflict are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Millions have been forced to quit school.
One of the things that I know as a parent, grandparent, foster parent, and teacher is that children need a safe environment in which to grow. They need caring communities, a place to run and play, healthy food and clean water, and adults in their lives who have their best interest at heart. Your children and my children deserve these things and so do the children of Syria.
By opening our hearts and minds we can help ensure that children who are being forced to flee their homes and in many cases their families will find safe refuge.So, because I know that the most effective way to overcome fear and misinformation is through education, let me do some educating. And please, feel free to pass this along to others.
A refugee is defined as a person outside of his or her own country of nationality who is unable to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions, and is unable to obtain sanctuary. The definition is sometimes expanded to include people fleeing war or other armed conflict.
Syrian refugees face a long security screening process before being admitted for entry to the United States. Averaging 18 months to 24 months, the process is the most intensive of any check conducted for people seeking admission to the United States. It is specially designed to mitigate any threats and helps ensure Americans are not placed in harm’s way.
Recurrent vetting: Throughout this process, pending applications continue to be checked against terrorist databases, to ensure new, relevant terrorism information has not come to light. If a match is found, that case is paused for further review. Applicants who continue to have no flags continue the process. If there is doubt about whether an applicant poses a security risk, they will not be admitted.
1 – Many refugee applicants identify themselves to the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR. UNHCR, then:
- Collects identifying documents
- Performs initial assessment
- Collects biodata: name, address, birthday, place of birth, etc.
- Collects biometrics: iris scans (for Syrians, and other refugee populations in the Middle East)
- Interviews applicants to confirm refugee status and the need for resettlement
- Initial information checked again
- Only applicants who are strong candidates for resettlement move forward (less than 1% of global refugee population).
2 – Applicants are received by a federally-funded Refugee Support Center (RSC):
- Collects identifying documents
- Creates an applicant file
- Compiles information to conduct biographic security checks
3 – Biographic security checks start with enhanced interagency security checks
Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.
- U.S. security agencies screen the candidate, including:
- National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community
- Department of Homeland Security
- State Department
- The screening looks for indicators, like:
- Information that the individual is a security risk
- Connections to known bad actors
- Outstanding warrants/immigration or criminal violations
- DHS conducts an enhanced review of Syrian cases, which may be referred to USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate for review. Research that is used by the interviewing officer informs lines of question related to the applicant’s eligibility and credibility.
4 – Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/USCIS interview:
- Interviews are conducted by USCIS Officers specially trained for interviews
- Fingerprints are collected and submitted (biometric check)
- Re-interviews can be conducted if fingerprint results or new information raises questions. If new biographic information is identified by USCIS at an interview, additional security checks on the information are conducted. USCIS may place a case on hold to do additional research or investigation. Otherwise, the process continues.
5 – Biometric security checks:
- Applicant’s fingerprints are taken by U.S. government employees
- Fingerprints are screened against the FBI’s biometric database.
- Fingerprints are screened against the DHS biometric database, containing watch-list information and previous immigration encounters in the U.S. and overseas.
- Fingerprints are screened against the U.S. Department of Defense biometric database, which includes fingerprint records captured in Iraq and other locations.
- If not already halted, this is the end point for cases with security concerns. Otherwise, the process continues.
6 – Medical check:
- The need for medical screening is determined
- This is the end point for cases denied due to medical reasons. Refugees may be provided medical treatment for communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.
7 – Cultural orientation and assignment to domestic resettlement locations:
- Applicants complete cultural orientation classes.
- An assessment is made by a U.S.-based non-governmental organization to determine the best resettlement location for the candidate(s). Considerations include:
- Family; candidates with family in a certain area may be placed in that area.
- Health; a candidate with asthma may be matched to certain regions.
- A location is chosen.
8 – Travel:
- International Organization for Migration books travel
- Prior to entry in the United States, applicants are subject to:
- Screening from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center-Passenger
- The Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program
- This is the end point for some applicants. Applicants who have no flags continue the process.
9 – U.S. Arrival:
- All refugees are required to apply for a green card within a year of their arrival to the United States, which triggers:
- Another set of security procedures with the U.S. government.
- Refugees are woven into the rich fabric of American society!
Safe travels and enjoy your Thanksgiving and dinner table conversations!