Sunday, November 22, 2015

Just A Guy Named Jose, Or Jesus, But Probably Not Mohammad (as far as we know)

from Wikipedia

I have done a little thinking about immigration today. Like most Americans, I have my own experiences with immigrants and the immigration process. I offer these two examples and then will go on from there.

The first is while I was growing up. My grandfather had a large farm in Texas. Since my dad and his brother left the farm, and my grandfather's hard life was beginning to catch up with him, he hired temporary labors the help him out. As a frame of reference, this was in the late 60's or early 70's. I recall that my grandfather referred to them as 'wetbacks'. This wasn't a derogatory term for him. It was a practical statement of fact. These guys came to Texas to get work without the sanction of anyone's government. In fact, it was common in that section of Texas. In exchange for housing and a wage, they would do whatever needed doing around the farm. Much of that work was very hard. I can confirm that because I spent a summer working for my grandfather. While there was always something fun to do there, there was also some of the hottest, hardest, work I have ever done.

My grandfather told a story about how his workers came to burn down a house that he had on the property. It seems that while my grandfather had provided a livable house for them, he did not provide them with cut firewood to heat it. It was up to the workers to chop the firewood from the surrounding deadwood. This particular group of guys were not inclined to do any more work than was necessary, so rather than cutting the wood so it would fit in the fireplace, they came up with the rather brilliant idea to light one end of a log, then feed it into the fireplace as it burned. The inevitable happened and they fell asleep and the lit log resulted in the conflagration of the house.  They all escaped, but were fired and wondered off to another farm to work.

On another side of the coin, my mother in law immigrated from Spain. She and my wife's father corresponded and she came to America to marry my wife's father. She is steadfastly an American and, while she values her Catalan heritage, she also prizes her American citizenship.

So, with those two examples in mind, let's turn to what seems to be the theme for this week: the problem of the Syrian refugees. By some reports there are something like 4 million Syrians fleeing their war torn country. According to Uncle Joe, these are mostly women and orphans, but will be increased from 2000 this year to 10000 in the coming year, and will be subject some really stringent screening.

I got curious about how they would do this. After all, the Greeks are saying it's nearly impossible to tell the bad jihadist from the good Muslim. In an admittedly brief perusal of the INS site, I stumbled on the USCIS site, and the form (I-589) that is used to determine if a potential refugee is going to be granted asylum. First, you have to say that the form is detailed, and somewhat like a form you would fill out for a job application and background check, but a bit more personal. For example, it ask right up front what religion you, your spouse, and children are. As for why you are fleeing, it ask (among other things) these questions:

  • Have you, your family, or close friends experienced harm or mistreatment or threats in the past by anyone? Give specific details
  • Do you fear harm or mistreatment if you return to your home country?
  • Have you or your family members ever been arrested, interrogated, (etc) in any country other than the United States
  • Are you afraid of being tortured in your home country
The problem is not with the details, but with verification of the details, given the current state of Syria. It's not like we can call up the Syrian government and ask "Hey, did you rip the fingernails out of this guy?". Nope, this is a classic problem of using interrogation techniques to weed out bad actors from legitimate refugees and it's damn hard to do. The only basis that you have for verifying that what is on the paper is the truth is the refugee's own internal consistency. A really well prepared jihadist will be hard to detect. Hopefully, there aren't that many well prepared jihadist and the interrogators / interviewers are really, really good. This is complicated by the interviewee's due process rights. What if an interviewer thinks but can't prove that the person they are talking to is a jihadist? Do they have to pass them through anyway? I suspect they might.

Given the sheer number of applicants, I can see where is will be hard to have a large enough cadre of skilled interviewers to adequately vet all applications, and therein lies the problem. Consider a similar problem the government faces with vetting security clearances. The task is somewhat similar in that the a small cadre of investigators must, using electronic and other bio-metric data, determine that a person is who they say they are, and have no skeletons in their closets. Even in the best of circumstances, this process mostly relies on the skills of the interviewer to determine the veracity of the applicant,  and takes an average of 65 days to complete an investigation when the investigators have broad access to everything about an individual. The investigation of an asylum seeker has got to be many times more difficult than that!

So, for those people saying that Republicans are hard hearted by saying let's just back up a minute before opening the flood gates to these Syrians, i'd say their position doesn't look so crazy, given the above considerations. The federal government's first and most important job is to defend the people from harm. If you can do that and let these people in, by all means go ahead. But I think you need to prove that you can and be completely transparent in the process before allowing a single one of these people in. This administration has been anything but transparent about this. Anything else is just empty promises.

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