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Can we balance compassion with security?

November 16, 2015

In the wake of the Paris attacks, it has been reported that to date at least one, possibly two of the cell members  that created, assisted and/or carried out the attack came into Europe as refugees.

So when Americans hear President Obama say that he sees no problem with continuing to accept 65,000 or more refugees from the Middle East and Africa some people question whether he is living in some alternate universe. Why would you want to let in a statistically probable 2000 or more  jihadists?

On the other hand many people say that if we simply turn them all away, then we are no longer the America that professes to be a compassionate place for the world’s oppressed to finally taste freedom.

Those polar opposite positions are in part fueled by the obvious facts in front of our eyes.

ISIS is not contained, it is not losing ground, and it has no desire to confine itself to the Middle East. It is, as the radical arm of Islam has always been, committed to the destruction of everything and everyone that opposes its world view.

No amount of political double-speak and rose-colored fog can obscure the fact that in many cases, our government is lying to us. A decade or more of quickly unraveling fuzzy logic on so many fronts makes it difficult, if not impossible for the average citizen to buy into the propaganda.

With so much evidence that our government is either incapable of recognizing reality or fully committed to changing America into something our founding fathers never envisioned and a country that successive generations would certainly have never fought and died to protect, many are asking…where do we go from here?

Caught squarely in the middle are the refugees.

In a refreshingly rare moment of public candor, FBI Director James Comey flatly stated that we cannot vet these refugees.

If we can’t vet them, how can we strike a balance between compassion and common sense?

At the heart of the problem are two issues.

First, international law states that nations shall accept and accommodate the applications of refugees fleeing life-threatening oppression or conditions. Indeed the Refugee Act of 1980 specifically removes the ability of state governments to control immigration into their states.

That was the basis under which many of the people that flooded the U.S-Mexican border were granted asylum by President Obama, although whether their circumstances truly fit the legal prerequisites has been and is open to interpretation.

Clearly, no such ambiguity attends the plight of the refugees fleeing ISIS/ISIL.

The second issue is the problem of vetting the individuals when they arrive in massive waves.

As Director Comey stated, there is no effective vetting process that can perform background checks fast enough to materially relieve the congestion that results in people being kept in detention, essentially in U.S. refugee camps,  until such checks are performed. That’s assuming that the data exists to vet them at all.

The result is that refugees and illegal immigrants alike are processed, given a court date, released and are seldom ever heard from again.

Ideally these people would apply for asylum at our embassies, be at least pre-vetted and enter the country identified and able to be tracked at a later time.

Circumstances in the Middle East have made that orderly process totally unrealistic.

The question then becomes, how can we find these people and haul them back into the system as resources become available to process them correctly or in the worst case scenario, identify them when they do prove to be terrorists?

People have been working to design such a system for at least a decade.

Some have suggested monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets. The cost of purchasing even 65,000 such devices, not to mention the limitations of geographical tracking and the cost of the receiving units and the personnel to man them, could run upwards of thousands of dollars annually, per person.

Another alternative proposed is to microchip them and have them scanned automatically as they enter establishments, pass through turnpike stations, clock into their jobs or travel on public transportation. After the people have proven their commitment to American values and have shown the ability to abide by our laws, the chip could be removed.

There are logistic limitations to that approach as well.

The average cost to purchase chips for small animals such as dogs and cats is about $2-$5 each, purchased in bulk, versus some published figures of from $175 to $675 for ankle bracelets. The battery-operated scanner units run from as little as $100 each  up to $15,000 for state of the art RFID chip scanners.

The problem with that technology is that the scanners themselves are not standardized. They “read” the chip based on the megahertz frequency of the chip, and there are at least three commonly used frequencies.

Some scanners do read all the frequencies, but it’s doubtful enough of them exist or could be quickly produced to adequately perform the task of tracking people throughout the U.S.

The second problem is that the chip tends to migrate. Animal rescues and shelters that use these chips commonly insert them subcutaneously at the nape of the neck, but when reading them even a few months later, they can be found just about anywhere on the animal. That would make standardized auto-scanning locations difficult, necessitating a human doing the scanning.

That’s not to say that all of these limitations couldn’t be overcome in time. Unfortunately, we are now out of time.

That is essentially the problem with all of the humane solutions to the refugee problem. We have had decades, starting with WWII to develop strategies and technologies to deal with the current situation. Obviously, we failed to do it.

Considering that our leaders don’t even have the collective political will to cancel the passports of known terrorists to prevent them re-entering the country, the likelihood that anything will be in place at the national level to protect the country from imported terrorism are slim to nonexistent.

It seems somewhat clear that at least for now, the only way to keep from welcoming our own destruction with open arms is for local governments to stop the mass influx at their borders. At least 15 governors, with full knowledge that they may be operating outside current regulations, have now announced their intent to do just that.

Given that current political and economic tactics don’t seem to be effective, the idea that we can “kill our way out of this mess”  as some opponents of military action call it, starts to look like at least a large part of the answer.

One man advanced what he called the cockroach strategy. To wit, maybe you can’t kill every cockroach, but you can damn well keep the population at a manageable level.

Pacifist or protagonist, everyone is searching for the right answer.

Perhaps, like Paris, and Pearl Harbor in a previous century, it will take a  national tragedy on the home front to unite us behind a strategy to truly contain and isolate the threat at its source.

Until then, if you live in Washington DC or other ISIS identified targets, you might want to re-think your geographic address.

From → op-ed, Uncategorized

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