Fox News is attacking the Obama administration's new rules regarding asylum for refugees by portraying the move as an "open door policy" and an invitation for terrorism. In reality, refugees still have to pass "lengthy" background checks, and the government states it will only accept "individuals whom the United States does not consider threats."
On February 5, the Obama administration announced new immigration rules concerning political or war zone refugees. The changes were prompted by restrictive rules that have prevented nearly all asylum-seeking Syrians from entering the United States. Reuters reported that the changes will grant exemptions "on a case by case basis," for those seeking political asylum that do not pose a national security or public safety risk. The New York Times explained that "the exemptions apply if the refugees provided only minor material support, such as meals or medical aid, to armed groups that have not been officially designated as terrorist organizations, or if they gave such support under pressure."
Echoing Republican lawmakers, Fox has misleadingly portrayed these exemptions as an "open door policy" for refugees and misrepresented the definition of refugees with "limited terror connections" to spread unwarranted fears of increased terror attacks due to these new policies.
On February 7, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy interviewed Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the nativist and anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies. Vaughn hyped fears that these exemptions could be given "to all applicants for any kind of visa or green card who have been identified as possibly supporting terrorism," while Doocy suggested that these exemptions could apply to someone who "was simply Bin Laden's au pair."
On February 8, Fox & Friends Saturday hosted Michael Cutler, who has an extensive history of association with anti-immigrant and nativist groups. Cutler is also a regular contributor to the white nationalist Social Contract Journal. During his Fox appearance, Cutler heavily criticized the exemptions and argued that "we must never allow compassion to compromise national security," while Fox News co-host Tucker Carlson suggested that these exemptions were made by the Obama administration to gain new voters.
But these exemptions are not an "open door policy" for potential terrorists. As Reuters reported, the "advocacy group Human Rights First said, for example, that the existing law had been invoked to bar a refugee who had been robbed of $4 and his lunch by armed rebels, and a florist who had sold bouquets to a group the United States had designated as a terrorist organization." Such standards have already barred thousands of people from refugee status.
The new rules still require refugees to pass eligibility requirement. The New York Times reported that "refugees have to pass through the lengthy existing series of criminal and national security background checks, lawyers said, and the exemptions do not come into play until the refugees have already passed all the other eligibility hurdles."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told the Times that "these exemptions are for individuals whom the United States does not consider threats ... Nothing in these exemptions changes the rigorous, multilayered security screening we do."