Friday, February 3, 2017

Refugees, Immigrants, and Islam: In Search Of Truth And Justice

After reading all the debate about the immigration/refugee issue, I decided to do some of my own research. The result? I found out how complex this subject is. My intent is to provide a good foundation on which to begin building an informed opinion. It's certainly not the final word, but hopefully it's a good start.

Here, as best as I have been able to ascertain, are the facts. I am not attempting to persuade as much as to inform. There a lot of links; my summaries don't do justice, so I encourage you to click and read. When I sent out some early drafts, readers kept pointing toward more and more relevant information that I missed. I suspect that will continue. Feel free to comment or add helpful links in the comment section if you can help to bring greater clarity to this issue. I have no problem updating this post to reflect a growing understanding of a complex issue.


According to, "A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so."

Unlike Europe, our problems do not come from refugees. Perhaps because it takes three years through a grueling vetting process to get in instead of the three months for a visa, embedding operatives in the refugee system is a really low priority on ISIS’s list. There is not agreement on effective the vetting process is. The Heritage Foundation sees it as extensive but not perfect; Human Rights First likes it, as does USA Today; Fox News, The Washington Times, and even CNN have questioned the safety of the process.

 Since 1975, 20 refugees out of 3.2 million have been arrested for either planning or carrying out acts of terrorism. Only three Americans were killed - and that was by Cuban refugees in the 1970's. However, there are some discrepant numbers based on how one describes terrorism. The Independent has reported that "a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program since 9/11, 'only about a dozen — a tiny fraction of one percent of admitted refugees — have been arrested or removed from the U.S. due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the U.S.  None of them were Syrian.'"

 No refugees from the countries identified in Obama and Trump's directives are responsible for an American death (though some tried). As the Cato Institute has noted, the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee was 1 in 3.64 billion a year. 


I cannot do justice to the statistics unless I discuss three separate categories: non-Muslim immigrants, Muslim immigrants, and illegal immigrants. You will see why I feel the need to make this distinction as we look at the facts.

Non-Muslim Immigrants 

There is a lot of talk about the danger of immigrants. It's important to note that non-Muslim legal immigrants pose no more of a threat to our safety than do native-born people. The Washington Post highlighted six different studies:
  • "Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course." (Bianca Bersani, University of Massachusetts, 2014. Published in Justice Quarterly.)
  • Citing Bersani's work, Pew Research created this graph, showing crime rates among the immigrant community. "The crime rate among first-generation immigrants — those who came to this country from somewhere else — is significantly lower than the overall crime rate and that of the second generation," they write. {My note - more on this later}
  • "There’s essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime." (Jörg Spenkuch, Northwestern University, 2014. Published by the university.) He did find a small correlation between immigration and property crime, but only a slight one.
  • "[I]mmigrants are underrepresented in California prisons compared to their representation in the overall population. In fact, U.S.-born adult men are incarcerated at a rate over two-and-a-half times greater than that of foreign-born men." (Public Policy Institute of California, 2008.)
  • "[D]ata from the census and a wide range of other empirical studies show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans, who make up the bulk of the undocumented population." (Ruben Rumbaut, University of California, 2008. Published by the Police Foundation.)
  • "Analyses of data collected from four Southwest states and the U.S. Census show that the perceived size of the undocumented immigrant population, more so than the actual size of the immigrant population and economic conditions, is positively associated with perceptions of undocumented immigrants as a criminal threat." (Xia Wang, Arizona State University, 2014. Published in Criminology.)
Unless the infrastructure of a nation is overwhelmed, and assuming there is a solid vetting process in place, there appears to be little reason to avoid adding to our melting pot in this fashion. Indeed, there are some clearly documented benefits. Studies in the U.S. have shown "even poor and low skilled immigrants are generally net positives for government revenue–they contribute more in taxes than they consume in benefits." Even the George W. Bush Institute agrees with this. 

There are increasing problems, however, with second-generation dynamics. A thorough article at migration notes:
Incarceration rates are lowest among immigrant young men, even among the least educated and the least acculturated among them, but they increase sharply among the U.S. born and acculturated second generation, especially among the least educated — evidence of downward assimilation that parallels patterns observed for marginalized native minorities.
It's worth noting this seems to be associated with poverty and education levels; second-generation Chinese, Indians, Koreans, and Filipinos, for example, don't generally fit this pattern, likely because of socio-economic factors.

Why does this happen? I've read several theories. The first is that the second generation is caught in no man's land - they often don't feel like they are part of their parent's country or their new country. They become increasingly frustrated and disenfranchised, and this builds negative momentum. The second theory is that they are exposed to cultural dynamics, particularly in schools, that cause a lot of problemsThe third theory is that, as they assimilate, they just begin to match our bad behavior.  Yay, American peer pressure.

Meanwhile, second generation Latino immigrants are doing really well socio-economically. In other words, after a generation or two, immigrants who were safer but poorer than native-born citizens begin to look a lot more like the nation into which they have assimilated. 

Muslim Immigrants

The statistics for Muslim immigrants as a group are different.

As we can currently see in Europe, the Muslim immigrant communities are bringing a lot of troublesome dynamics, particularly as it relates to sex crimes. The numbers are pretty undeniable, and particular stories like the Rotherham scandal bring it closer to home. While they represent a small minority of the population, their impact is quite disproportional. The fact that they are the face of the Muslim immigrant community is not fair to the rest, but the reality is that Muslim immigrant communities in Europe are a hotbed for violence. The AP did an exhaustive study and found that, since 9/11, there have been "119,044 anti-terror arrests and 35,117 convictions in 66 countries...that included 2,934 arrests and 2,568 convictions in the United States."

Clearly, violence has already been an issue in the United States. The research at "Terrorist attacks and related incidents in the United States" offers a very accessible overview of where the threats come from and how much impact they have had. It also shows what plenty of others have pointed out: right wing extremists are not more of a threat: 
"If you include the death totals from 9/11 in such a calculation, then there have been around 62 people killed in the United States by Islamic extremists for every one American killed by a right wing terrorist (a 62 to 1 ratio if you divide the slightly over 3000 deaths due to Islamic extremism by the 48 deaths attributed to right wing extremism)."
I’m not sure what the European response will ultimately be, but they are scrambling to put the immigration genie back in the bottle. Their infrastructure and resources are overloaded; this has created disenfranchised ghettos of simmering anger and resentment on which ISIS feeds. That wasn’t always the case. Now it is. Their model is unsustainable. They’ve got their work cut out.

This policy analysis identifies 154 foreign-born terrorists in the United States who killed 3,024 people in attacks from 1975 through the end of 2015. [MY NOTE: Almost 3,000 were killed on 9/11].  Ten of them were illegal immigrants, 54 were lawful permanent residents (LPR), 19 were students, 1 entered on a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, 20 were refugees, 4 were asylum seekers, 34 were tourists on various visas, and 3 were from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries. The visas for 9 terrorists could not be determined.  
[From 1975 to 2015], the chance of an American being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. The chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee was 1 in 3.64 billion a year. The annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist.
National Review notes that "there are currently 800 ongoing FBI investigations of ISIS-inspired terrorist suspects in the U.S., 48 of which are serious enough to justify round-the-clock surveillance." In 2015, the number was 900.  According to the Anti-Defamation League,
The number of U.S. residents linked to terrorism per year has varied considerably in the years since 2001, with an approximate average of 28 U.S. residents linked to terrorism annually between 2002 and 2014. The highest number prior to 2015 was in 2009: 56 U.S. residents were charged with terror offenses or otherwise named as having fought or died fighting with terrorist organizations abroad in 2009... Eighty-one U.S. residents were linked to Islamic extremist plots and other activity in 2015."
In the first eight months of 2016, "31 suspected ISIS terrorists have been arrested by American law enforcement, and three attacks have taken the lives of 63 people and wounded an additional 81 civilians." For what it's worth, the primary nations responsible for terrorists are not the ones on Obama and Trump's list. If they really wanted to stop terrorists, they would stop immigrants from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon.

So how reflective is this of the general Muslim population?

The conservative CNS News reported a Pew study that showed 8% of U.S. Muslims believe suicide bombing and violence against civilian targets are 'often’ or ‘sometimes justified.’  81% said it never was. For a practical example, look at how the Somali population in Minnesota feels about the violent members of the their community. A former Muslim, Alan Shlemon, writes at Stand To Reason:
Some people are critical of my comments, claiming that I’m demonizing Muslim people. That’s not true. I’ll be the first to say that most Muslims are not violent people. Not only is my family from the Middle East, but over the years I’ve known and interacted with Muslims of all stripes. When they’ve come to my family’s home, they are kind, respectful, and even bring gifts. When I’ve visited their homes, they are hospitable, gracious, and kind. I’ve been going to mosques in both the United States and the Middle East (and taking Christian groups to them) for years and never have had a problem. 
These Muslims don’t observe the command to fight. Many of them try to reform Islam by making it less violent, while others are simply ignorant of its teachings. Around 70% of Muslims are nominal (Muslim in name only). They don’t study the Qur’an, hadith, or Sunnah. They don’t even attend their local mosque. They’re born in a Muslim family or Islamic country and adopt Islam by default. These Muslims want to lead peaceful lives. 
That’s why I’m mystified by the backlash against those who point out that Islam – the religion and its teachings – affirms that violent jihad is a valid Islamic doctrine, while also recognizing that most Muslims are ignorant of those teachings or reject them. This is an accurate and honest view that makes the important distinction between Islam and Muslims.
So 70 - 80% of Muslims oppose violence. (Many moderate Muslims in the United States support President Trump's executive order).  Of the remaining 20% to 30%, approximately 1% are at risk of becoming radicalized according to Western European intelligences agency. That's a small percentage, but it's still a lot of people in raw numbers. And considering the intent and increasing influence of ISIS, this is no small matter.  If you are interested in a more thorough discussion, Alan Shlemon has more to offer on this subject.

In addition, we must consider a number of other potential problems that are unique to Muslim immigrants.
Speaking of Dearborn, it probably provides the best test case of what a large Muslim community looks like in the United States. First, let's look at crime stats. According to's stats from 2002-2014:
  • Since 2002, the crime index has dropped from 476 to 253 (the national average is 287). 
  • Violent crime is below the national average; property crime is higher. 
  • The murder rate is far below the U.S. average, but rapes are higher. 
  • Robberies and assault rates are the same as the national average. 
  • Burglary is lower, but theft and auto theft are higher. 
  • Arson is the lowest it's been since 2002.
  • The overall city crime index is slightly above the national average.
  • Violent crime is slightly lower than the national average
  • Murder, rape and assault and burglary are below the national average, but theft and auto theft is higher {note that they disagree with City Data on the rape rate].
  • Its 'crimes per square miles' is out the roof, but that's not a fair stat - Dearborn is densely populated. 
  • Overall, Dearborn gets a 14 out of 100 - which is bad. It's only safer than 14% of cities. For context, it's worth noting that Detroit gets a 4. It's safer to live in Dearborn than Detroit. summarizes it succinctly:
"You'll find that the rate of crime in Dearborn, MI averages 50% higher than the rest of Michigan while the rate of crime... is 21% higher than [the national average]. You'll find that the occurrence of violent crime in Dearborn, MI is 10% lower than the average rate of crime in Michigan and 1% higher than the rest of the nation. Similarly, crime involving property stands 64% higher than the remainder of the state of Michigan and 24% higher than the nation's average."
They rank Dearborn as safer than 28% of cities in America (better than Neighborhood Scout) while noting that crimes have decreased by 5% year to year.  Dearborn does not make Neighborhood Scout's Top 100 Dangerous Cities list. Three other Michigan cities do: Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw.

With all that in mind, it's worth noting the perspective of law enforcement. They have good and productive involvement with the Muslim community in Dearborn, a community that generally seems inclined away from violence. According to Politico,
"U.S. Muslim communities already are highly wired by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence. And contrary to being “radicalized,” they have proven astonishingly cooperative on the whole. Numerous sources in U.S. law enforcement and national security interviewed for this story drew a picture of a largely sub-rosa but widespread effort in American counterterrorism: The deep embedding of federal counter-terrorism and intelligence-gathering efforts in Muslim communities like Dearborn (“The FBI has been great,” says Haddad), using an approach less driven by “patrolling” and surveillance than by using sophisticated if sometimes intrusive outreach and informant programs. The result, U.S. officials say, is that Muslim neighborhoods here are cooperating against Islamist terrorists to a degree that can’t be found among their counterparts in Europe."
So is there any reason to believe our experience can turn out differently than for Europe's? The short answer is that as long as there is a rigorous vetting process (which means acknowledging how clever terrorists have been in exploiting every loophole imaginable),  and as long there is purposeful assimilation into communities or cities, countries generally avoid escalating problems.

So far, the United States has avoided the European dilemma thanks to very purposeful (and successful) involvement in Muslim communities. However, considering what is happening in Europe, and considering how Norway has been trying to re-educate their Muslim immigrants on the proper treatment of women, it is worth looking beyond mere statistics and considering the daunting nature of the very real challenge we face when moral worldviews clash. As Ayann Hirsi Ali has noted, 
"Addressing the problem of Islamist terrorism will require much more than better immigration controls, though we certainly need those. It will necessitate the systematic dismantling of the ideological infrastructure of dawa , which is already well established right here in the United States."
If - if - we can successfully help defuse the tension, we could be instrumental in promoting an important movement toward peace and away from violence within Islam. I will let Ayaan Hirsi Ali will have the final word in this section:

Illegal Immigrants

Illegal immigrants have very different stats than do legal immigrants. A report from Fox News US reveals the sobering reality:
" did review reports from immigration reform groups and various government agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Sentencing Commission, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Government Accountability Office, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and several state and county correctional departments. Statistics show the estimated 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. account for 13.6 percent of all offenders sentenced for crimes committed in the U.S. Twelve percent of murder sentences, 20 percent of kidnapping sentences and 16 percent of drug trafficking sentences are meted out to illegal immigrants...
Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant criminals are being deported. In 2014, ICE removed 315,943 criminal illegal immigrants nationwide, 85 percent of whom had previously been convicted of a criminal offense. But that same year, ICE released onto U.S. streets another 30,558 criminal illegal immigrants with a combined 79,059 criminal convictions including 86 homicides, 186 kidnappings, and thousands of sexual assaults, domestic violence assaults and DUIs, Vaughan said. As of August, ICE had already released at least 10,246 criminal aliens. 
President Obama, whom immigration groups gave the snarky nickname "Deporter In Chief," removed 2.5 million illegal immigrants, which is more than all presidents in the 20th century deported combined. 
The administration made the first priority "threats to national security, border security, and public safety." That includes gang members, convicted felons or charged with "aggravated felony" and anyone apprehended at the border trying to enter the country illegally.  In 2015, 81 percent, or 113,385, of the removals were the priority one removals.
When ICE finally catches up with illegal aliens who have managed to evade being stopped at the border, 92% have committed a crime before being deported. (This is different from all undocumented immigrants, by the way, or immigrants who have overstayed work visas. See the endnotes in this study. I am focusing specifically on the border issue). There is a very compelling case to be made that legal immigrants should be welcomed with open arms even while we go to great lengths to protect our borders.

(UPDATE: It's worth noting that, once illegal immigrants make it past the border arrests, ICE and Homeland Security focus on illegals they know have committed crimes. Thus, the representation of the percentage of criminals arrested does not in itself give an accurate representation of the illegal immigrant population. It's like tallying the percentage of people arrested in a city after being investigated by police and concluding that is representative of the whole city''s population. It's worth reading this report from police Border safety is crucial, but the actual negative impact of illegal immigrants who make it past the border is far less than the general public believes.)   

I’m glad I don’t have to figure out how to balance upholding the rule of law with the application of common human decency. There is a sweet spot of justice somewhere between automatic deportation and blanket amnesty.

Visa and Passport Programs

This poses a much larger danger to oursecurity than I realized. Quite a bit of violence has been committed by radicalized Muslims here to study, work, visit, etc. The Harvard Political Review noted:
The current paranoia over Syrian refugees has also distracted from real security risks already facing the United States. Many lawmakers and security experts have warned that a much greater concern is the U.S. temporary visa program. As opposed to the Syrian refugee vetting process, which takes 18 to 24 months from start to finish and involves multiple background checks and face-to-face interviews with multiple agencies, a foreign citizen applying for a 90-day visa in the U.S. need only have a valid passport, register before arriving at U.S. Customs, and pass a light background check that does not include an interview. A visa waiver-sharing program which has been in place since 1986 allows visa applicants from 30 European countries to obtain a visa with even more minimal screening than is usually required. In a matter of months, a European citizen could travel to Syria, train with ISIS, travel back to Europe, and apply for an American visa. If successful, they would have 90 days to plan and carry out a terrorist attack on American soil. 
To make matters worse, while the United States is able to effectively track Americans who travel to and from Syria, the U.S. has a much more limited ability to monitor Europeans who do the same due to limitations on information sharing. The threat of domestic radicalization in Europe is real: a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service estimates that more than 4,500 Europeans have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS, although the United States’ limited ability to track European citizens means that the true total is likely higher. 
In fact, policymakers have recently begun to recognize the very real security risks posed by the visa system. After the U.S. Senate received a closed-door briefing from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on November 18, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that discussion of the visa system dominated the briefing. “Were I [a terrorist] in Europe already, and I wanted to go to the United States and I was not on a watch list or a no-fly list, the likelihood is I’d use the visa waiver program before I would try to pawn myself off as a refugee,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.). However, many members of Congress continue to insist that Syrian refugees pose a major threat to the United States, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

A Christian Response

While the Bible has a lot to say about how followers of Jesus should treat foreigners and neighbors, it doesn’t really weigh in on what governments ought to do.[1] It’s far more focused on how to treat those who are brought into our circle. 

No matter what we conclude about borders and security - and I can understand why Christians have starkly different views -  we must agree on what it looks like to treat those around us with the love of Christ for the purpose of sharing the good news of the gospel. I’m going to let Carey Waldie, a local pastor and a friend, have the final word on this:

If the American Christian kept God’s kingdom priority in their lives, we would look differently on immigration. Over the years, I think many American Christians have forgotten the global responsibility God has given us. We have grown spiritually soft in our American enclave and now we’re worried that we are losing our culture so we circle our red, white and blue wagons. As a nation, we’ve maintained a religious veneer but our hearts are far from God. Look at the traffic on a Sunday morning for proof. Because we have stopped living powerful, prayerful, and evangelical lives, immigration now threatens our Christian “way of life.” There is no such thing as a spiritual void. Secularism has no power to fill it. If the Christian church carries no authority, something else will.

A kingdom-minded Christian isn’t fear driven. We know we live in a dangerous world because of fallen men. We know there exists real evil that motivates people. We know darkness exists and we walk in our authority to shine the light. But if we have no authority, if our lives don’t reflect the light, we are right to fear.

A kingdom Christian is a globally aware Christian. Jesus has commissioned us to take the truths of God into all the world. We are called to teach all nations. A globally aware, Great-Commission minded Christian welcomes those from other lands because we can share Christ with them unrestricted here…

We have a man in our church who is an elderly veteran. He considers it his mission to host exchange students each year and he brings them to our ESL program. Many of them have come to church as well. One girl needed to do community service through her exchange program so she asked if there was a place she could serve in the church. Problem: She was Muslim. Well, I had never had a Muslim asked to serve in the church before. So we let her serve in our nursery. Was I worried she was casting spells on the kids? Was she reading bedtime stories from the Hadith? No, she was a helper who consistently heard the gospel through our lead teachers and friends she developed.  She is from a nation most Christians could not find on a map let alone visit. God brought her to us. I think we stewarded the opportunity well.

If each church—not Christian­­— each church,  in our university towns just adopted one international student at the local university and helped them with meals, laundry, relationships and simply cared for them we would make a much larger impact.

A city on a hill. When we stop being salt and light, we are good for nothing but to be trampled on the ground. When the stewards buried their gifts, it was taken away and given to the one who worked hard and produced. I love America. I don’t want her liberties and mission taken away. Let’s live out our faith in love and seize the opportunities before us!


[1] I’m not sure referencing the Old Testament is the best move. Israel was a theocracy, so worship of God and allegiance to the State were intertwined. Idolatry made you a traitor not just to God, but to your country. This is not how America works. Even so, Israel was commanded by God to take in immigrants even from countries who were their sworn enemies. There was the equivalent of a‘vetting’ process in that the immigrants had to agree to live by the basic constraints of Israel’s civil law code, though they were not forced to convert.

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