No doubt it is important to weed out radicalized individuals seeking entry into the United States. But while the Islamic State has threatened to embed itself among refugees heading to the West, terrorists don’t need to go through the entry process to operate in our country. The Islamic State is already recruiting vulnerable, born-in-America citizens by connecting with them through social media.
Counterterrorism data is clear: Most of the terrorists on American soil do not come from the ranks of refugees but are individuals who are born here and who become vulnerable to recruitment because of mental illness, social marginalization, issues of discrimination and other factors that have nothing to do with admitting refugees into our country.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of war-torn Syrian refugees are fleeing terrorist groups. But they are at risk. Experience from many conflict zones teaches us that the longer these refugees are left to languish in despair in camps the more prone they become to radicalization. Just as gangs attract youth in inner cities, terrorists are adroit at exploiting the most vulnerable who might turn to them for security, justice and even hope. Young men, in particular, gravitate to perceived models of strength and protection. In my book “Talking to Terrorists,” I wrote about a young Chechen in a refugee camp in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia, who explained that his father had been crippled by the conflicts and the youth wanted to join the “Islamic brothers” (meaning Chechen terrorist groups) because they, unlike his father, “were real men.”