A Guide To The Right-Wing Media Myths About Syrian Refugees In The Wake Of The Terror Attacks In Paris

Right-wing media have repeatedly exploited the November 13 ISIS-led terror attacks in Paris to stoke fears about Syrian refugees posing a terror threat in the U.S., falsely claiming that the United States lacks a rigorous refugee vetting system, that most Syrian refugees are adult males  “of fighting age,”  and that, like the attacks in Paris, the Boston Marathon bombing and Ft. Hood shooting were perpetrated by refugees.

FACT: The U.S. Has One Of The Most Exhaustive Refugee Screening Processes In The World

FACT: Most Syrian Refugees Are Women And Children

FACT: Neither Tsarnaev Brothers Nor Hasan Came Through Refugee Resettlement System

FACT: Reports So Far Show All Attackers Were European Union Nationals

MYTH: The U.S. Lacks An Adequate Screening Process For Admitting Syrian Refugees, Which Puts The Nation At Great Risk For Terror Attacks Like Those In Paris

Fox's Bartiromo: There Are “Really Not Any Circumstances” To Vet Syrian Refugees Properly. Reporting on the Paris attacks during the November 16 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo stoked fears that the U.S. refugee resettlement program could increase terror risks, falsely claiming that “there's really not any circumstances where we can vet these people properly.” Host Brian Kilmeade agreed, saying the White House explanationthat there is a vetting system for refugees demonstrates that the Obama administration is “not the voice of logic” :

MARIA BARTIROMO: Does this attack change the conversation in terms of policy? In terms of the presidential election? I mean, now the whole idea of taking in refugees is beginning to become a lot more up for debate than it was earlier. I mean, we don't know if this is actually changing the president's plan who -- President Obama has said he wants to take in the refugees. The issue is that there's really not any circumstances where we can vet these people properly. You don't have a Syrian government that can actually give you the right information about who the refugees really are and if they are who they say they are.

[...]

BRIAN KILMEADE: Well Maria, I'll tell you, you got it wrong because the White House says we have a very robust vetting procedure for these refugees. That is the voice of one. Not the voice of logic. So that is going to change the dynamic on the ground. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]

Fox Guest Mark Steyn: There Will Be “No Screening Process” For Syrian Refugees Seeking Entry Into The U.S. Appearing on the November 16 edition of Fox & Friends, conservative commentator Mark Steyn used the terror attacks in Paris to stoke fears about refugee resettlement in the U.S., and claimed there is “going to be no screening process” for Syrian refugees in America:

STEVE DOOCY (HOST): [Obama] is on the side of refugees, though, because the White House made it clear over the weekend that the flow of refugees from that region, and some of them could be ISIS guys, going to continue.

MARK STEYN: Yeah, when you guys let me into your country, my lawyer said they look at it for six minutes, which means they don't have time to read the application, never mind check it. These guys are getting less than six minutes. As we've just heard with this Saudi passport business, they're coming from a country where they don't even have viable records. Nobody knows if these passports are genuine.

BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): It's a robust screening process, Ben Rhodes said.

STEYN: Yeah, it's going to be no screening process. It's like these guys in Greece, they land, they walk into Europe, they can walk into Serbia, Macedonia, walk all the way to Germany, France, Belgium and do what they want there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]

Fox's Carl Cameron: "Feds Say They Can Neither Vet Nor Vouch For The Refugees." During the November 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report, political correspondent Carl Cameron suggested that terrorists may be among Syrian refugees being resettled into the U.S., claiming government officials “can neither vet nor vouch for the refugees” :

CARL CAMERON: So far the feds say they can neither vet nor vouch for the refugees because in so many cases they have no documents, nor any kind of real paper trail. [Fox News, Special Report, 11/18/15]

FACT: The U.S. Has One Of The Most Exhaustive Refugee Screening Processes In The World

Buzzfeed: U.S. Has “One Of The Most Robust Security Screening Processes In The World” For Refugees. Buzzfeed's Kyle Blaine explained that the United States “has one of the most robust security screening processes in the world for potential refugees,” taking a Syrian refugee “an average of 18 to 24 months” to complete:

The U.S. has one of the most robust security screening processes in the world for potential refugees.

Many European countries will accept a refugee application based simply on a case file. The U.S. system works much differently.

Fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States since the start of the Syrian civil war. Though the Obama administration has the United States will accept 10,000 refugees in 2016, the complexity of the process takes on average 18 to 24 months.

[...]

Some have raised concerns this fall that even the level of security that the United States applies to the process is not sufficient enough to actually keep extremists from entering the country.

Secretary John Kerry told Congress earlier this year that the plan was to engage in “super vetting, I mean an extraordinarily level of vetting.” He added that if the FBI wasn't satisfied, he was “quite confident that people aren't going to be allowed in.”

To gain admittance into the United States a Syrian must clear all these steps:

· Multiple high-level security checks

· Biometric screening

· A mandatory interview with the Department of Homeland Security

· A medical screening

· A cultural orientation program (which consists of videos on housing, employment, education, and hygiene, among other topics)

Several of the checks only remain current for a certain period of time, but to qualify for entry into the United States, a potential refugee must have approved status for each step at the same time. [Buzzfeed, 11/14/15]

PolitiFact: Refugees Undergo Multiple Security Checks, An In-Person Interview, Department Of Homeland Security Approval, And A Medical Screening Before Entering The U.S. A November 15 PolitiFact article explained the refugee admissions process into the United States “can span two years” and “before a refugee ever gets onto American soil,” he or she “must first clear an eligibility hurdle,” followed by “a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, 'cultural orientation' classes, and one final security clearance” :

Let's begin with an overview of the refugee admissions process.

Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO -- determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.

As we noted in a previous fact-check, once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, “cultural orientation” classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil.

[...]

So how long does it take? Worldwide, about a year to 18 months, according to a State Department fact-sheet cited by the Bush campaign. A different page on the State Department website estimates an average time of 18 to 24 months.

For refugees from Syria and similar countries, however, the process can span two years, a spokesperson for the State Department told the Voice of America in September. Experts confirmed that two years is the average review duration for Syrian refugees, which means that some wait even longer. [PolitiFact, 11/15/15]

State Department: U.S. Refugee Screening Program Is Much Stricter Than Other Countries' Screenings. In a background briefing on the mechanics of the United States' refugee admissions program, a State Department official explained that, as part of one of the world's most comprehensive refugee screening processes, "[a]ll refugees undergo multiple security checks in order to be approved for U.S. resettlement, [and r]efugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States":

So there are a number of processing requirements within the [U.S. Refugee Admissions Program] that cannot be waived, such as an in-person DHS interview, security checks, and a medical exam, including a TB test. And this is one way -- one of the many ways in which our Refugee Resettlement Program differs from a lot of other countries' resettlement programs. A lot of other countries can do things like waive an in-person interview. They can take a case based on dossier. They do very few security checks in some cases. Those are not options that are available to us. So because of these very strict requirements that we have and because at any given time we're processing cases in 70 or more locations worldwide with a limited amount of resources, it currently takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or even longer to process a case from referral or application to arrival in the United States.

[...]

All refugees undergo multiple security checks in order to be approved for U.S. resettlement. Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States. The screening includes involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, NCTC; the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center; DHS; the Department of Defense; and other agencies. [U.S. Department of State, 9/11/15]

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Testimony: Syrian Refugee Applicants Face “An Additional Layer Of Review, Taking Into Account The Myriad Actors And Dynamic Nature Of The Conflict And Syria. USCIS Refugee Affairs Division Chief Barbara L. Stack and Matthew D. Emrich of USCIS' Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate explained during Senate testimony that Syrian refugee applicants face “an additional layer of review” on top ofthe standard security checks:

In addition to the existing suite of biometric and biographic checks that are applied to refugees regardless of nationality, USCIS has instituted an additional layer of review for Syrian refugee applications, taking into account the myriad actors and dynamic nature of the conflict in Syria. Before being scheduled for interview by a USCIS officer in the field, Syrian cases are reviewed at USCIS headquarters by a Refugee Affairs Division officer. All cases that meet certain criteria are referred to the USCIS' Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) for additional review and research. FDNS conducts open-source and classified research on referred cases and synthesizes an assessment for use by the interviewing officer. This information provides case-specific context relating to country conditions and regional activity, and it is used by the interviewing officer to inform lines of inquiry related to the applicant's eligibility and credibility.

Throughout the review process of Syrian refugee applicants, FDNS engages with law enforcement and intelligence community members for assistance with identity verification, acquisition of additional information, or deconfliction to ensure USCIS activities will not adversely affect an ongoing law enforcement investigation. When FDNS identifies terrorism related information, it makes the appropriate nominations or enhancements to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), using standard interagency watchlisting protocols. Additionally, USCIS drafts and disseminates reports to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies alerting the interagency to information that meets standing intelligence information requirements.

USCIS continues to work with DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) and intelligence community members to identify options for new potential screening opportunities to enhance this already robust suite of checks. Finally, in addition to the checks that I have described, refugee applicants are subject to screening conducted by DHS colleagues at U.S. Customs and Border Protection's National Targeting Center-Passenger and the Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight program prior to their admission to the United States, as is the case with all individuals traveling to the United States regardless of immigration program. [United States Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/1/15]

MYTH: Most Syrian Refugees Seeking To Settle In The U.S. Are Military Age Men

Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle Incorrectly Describes Syrian Refugees Entering The U.S. As "Approximately 70 Percent ... Adult Males Of Fighting Age." On the November 16 edition of Fox News' The Five, host Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed 70 percent of Syrian refugees are “adult males of fighting age,” adding, “I don't [know] where exactly the women and children are” :

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: [Rep. Michael] McCaul actually went so far, Markus, to send a letter imploring the president, saying we do not have the capability to properly vet these individuals coming in. And again, you look at the -- the pool that's coming in, approximately 70 percent males -- of adult males of fighting age. Like, I don't where exactly the women and children are, God bless. But at least you owe it to this country to give a little bit of, you know, due measure and circumspection to be able to vet these people properly. [Fox News, The Five, 11/16/15]

FACT: Most Syrian Refugees Are Women And Children

FactCheck.org: Over Half Of Syrian Refugees Are Women And Children. FactCheck.org reported on September 15 thatUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees demographic data shows that over 50 percent of Syrian refugees arewomen, over 51 percent are under age 17, and only about 22 percent are adult males:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- which refers refugees for resettlement in other countries -- says there are more than 4 million registered Syrian refugees. Its figures on the demographic makeup of refugees is based on available data on the 2.1 million who were registered by the UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. (Another 1.9 million Syrian refugees were registered by the Government of Turkey, and more than 24,000 were registered in North Africa.)

UNHCR's data show that 50.5 percent of refugees are women. Females age 18 to 59 make up 23.9 percent of the refugees, while males in that age group make up 21.8 percent.

Even younger males -- age 12 to 17 -- represent 6.5 percent of refugees, while females that age are 6.1 percent. The majority of refugees -- 51.1 percent -- are under age 17, including 38.5 percent who are younger than 12 years old. These numbers were as of Sept. 6. [FactCheck.org, 9/15/15]

PolitiFact: U.S. Will Prioritize Admitting Refugees Who Are “Torture Survivors, People With Serious Medical Conditions, Unaccompanied Children And Teens, And Women And Children At Risk.” In an October 4 post, PolitiFact explained that in selecting the approximately 10,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement in the country, the U.S. will prioritize “torture survivors, people with serious medical conditions, unaccompanied children and teens, and women and children at risk” :

Only about 10,000 refugees in the camps are slated for resettlement in the United States over the next year. Those making the perilous trip to Europe are not.

The priority refugees from this group would be torture survivors, people with serious medical conditions, unaccompanied children and teens, and women and children at risk. Those factors, coupled with background screenings, suggest they would likely not be ISIS operatives waiting to terrorize the United States. [PolitiFact, 10/4/15]

MYTH: Refugees Have Previously Committed Acts Of Terror In The U.S. In The Fort Hood Shooting And Boston Bombing

Rush Limbaugh Baselessly Cited 2009 Fort Hood Shooting As A Reason To Oppose Admitting Syrian Refugees. During the November 16 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Rush Limbaugh wondered “how many Fort Hood's is it going to take” before we oppose letting in Syrian refugees, referring to American-born shooter Nidal Malik Hasan:

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Now this is a theme, by the way, that's being picked up by the international left, and I've seen it in a number of leftist websites publications, and that is “come on, the refugees are not the terrorists, the refugees are fleeing what happened in Paris, they're not the people causing it,” when we have discovered that one of the terrorists in Paris on Friday night was indeed carrying a Syrian passport. Now we think that's the case. It could've been one of the victims, it could have been a forged passport or what have you, but nevertheless it was found. But the bottom line is with all of this happening, with all of these young men, able-bodied, military-age, fleeing.

[...]

How many Fort Hood's is it going to take? How many one-off, terrorism acts, attempted terrorism acts by lone wolves or whatever in this country is it going to take? Why in the world would you want to commit suicide? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/16/15]

Rush Limbaugh Falsely Claimed That Boston Bombing Perpetrators, “The Tsarnaev Family Were Refugees.” During the November 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh incorrectly cited the Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing as an example of refugees committing an act of terrorism in the U.S., saying, “You know the Tsarnaev family were refugees, a mother and her children. Look what they did. And they passed the screening, by the way.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/18/15]

Breitbart News: Tsarnaev Brothers' Boston Marathon Bombing Demonstrates “Security Risks Posed By Refugees. Breitbart News' John Hayward wrote in a November 16 article, “We don't have to speculate on the security risks posed by refugees because recent history provides many unfortunate examples - most notably the Boston Marathon bombers, the Tsarnaev family, which could not be described as grateful to the nation that granted them refuge” :

We don't have to speculate on the security risks posed by refugees, because recent history provides many unfortunate examples - most notably the Boston Marathon bombers, the Tsarnaev family, which could not be described as grateful to the nation that granted them refuge. It's also notable that the Tsarnaevs made frequent visits back to the region they sought refuge from. Our immigration system isn't exactly good at identifying desperate people whose very lives depend on fleeing to the United States. [Breitbart News, 11/16/15]

Glenn Beck Implied That Fort Hood Shooter, American-Born Nidal Malik Hasan, Demonstrates Weaknesses In Refugee Vetting Process. TheBlaze host Glenn Beck tweeted a photo of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, with a caption reading, “This Man Was Thoroughly Vetted Before Being Allowed Into The US. You May Remember Him As: Nidal Hasan. The Fort Hood Shooter,” likening him to Syrian refugees currently seeking resettlement in the U.S.:

[Twitter.com, 11/18/15]

FACT: Neither Tsarnaev Brothers Nor Hasan Came Through Refugee Resettlement System

CATO: The Tsarnaevs Were Derivative Asylum Seekers, Not Refugees. A report from the CATO Institute explained that the Tsarnaev brothers were not refugees but rather the children of the asylum seekers, which gave them “conferred derivative asylum status” entailing a separate vetting process from the refugee program:

Because the refugee is abroad while the U.S. government checks their background, potential terrorist links, and their claims to refugee status, the vetting is a lot more thorough and can take up to two years for non-Syrians. For Syrians, the vetting can take about three years because of the heightened concerns over security.

Asylum seekers, on the other hand, face rigorous checks, but they are conducted while the asylum seeker is inside of the United States and not always while he is in a detention center. Syrians fleeing violence who come to the United States will be refugees, whereas many getting into Europe are asylum seekers. This crucial distinction shows that the United States is in a far better security situation vis-à-vis Europe on any potential terrorist threat from Syrians.

The distinction between asylum seekers and refugees is usually lost when discussing the security threat from refugees. The father of Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev was granted asylum status, which conferred derivative asylum status on the children. None of the Tsarnaevs were ever refugees. [CATO Institute, 11/18/15]

Nidal Hasan Was Born And Raised In The United States. As The Washington Post reported, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan was born and raised in Virginia:

Born in Arlington County. Raised primarily in southwestern Virginia, where he graduated from William Fleming High School in Roanoke. Also attended Arlington's Wakefield High School for a year. [The Washington Post, 11/6/09]

MYTH: Paris Attackers Were Syrian Refugees

Sean Hannity: Paris Attackers Were “Refugees Who Went To Belgium And Then Attacked France.” During the November 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity described the Paris attackers as “refugees who went to Belgium and then attacked France” :

JUAN WILLIAMS: First of all, what happened in France were people who were holding European passports.

SEAN HANNITY: Excuse me. They were refugees who went to Belgium and then attacked France. Refugees.

WILLIAMS: No, no, these were people, in fact the prime bad guy was a child of Moroccan refugees who was born in Belgium. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/18/15]

Daily Caller's Scott Greer: Paris Attackers Were Refugees. In an opinion article criticizing President Obama over ISIS, associate editor Scott Greer claimed “two of the [Paris] attackers were refugees” :

Most troubling of all was the president's arrogant dismissal of concerns that terrorists reside among refugees, and his doubling-down on the cliche that the Islamic State is un-Islamic. Even though two of the attackers were refugees and ISIS is, in fact, Islamic, leading liberals would prefer to carry on with their feel-good beliefs in spite of the facts. [Daily Caller, 11/17/15]

FACT: Reports So Far Show All Attackers Were European Union Nationals

Washington Post: All Attackers Identified So Far As European Union Nationals. The Washington Post reported that while the Paris attacks “appear to have been partially planned or coordinated by Islamic State operatives in the Middle East,” all the identified participants in the attacks so far were European Union nationals:

Although the Paris terror attacks appear to have been partially planned or coordinated by Islamic State operatives in the Middle East, all the identified assailants are so far citizens of European Union countries. This suggests that their radicalization was likely homegrown on the continent, and not imported via an exodus of beleaguered Syrian refugees.

According to the Post's own graphic tracking the case, three out of the eight known assailants remain unidentified. Only one man is known to be alive. French officials confirmed on Tuesday that they were looking for a ninth suspect connected to the attacks. [The Washington Post, 11/17/15]