December 7, 2015
President Obama is having a rough go these days with his insistence that global warming is the largest contributor to terrorism. A Yale and Utah State University poll found that 90 percent of U.S. counties disagree with the statement that "most scientists think global warming is happening." Another poll indicates most Americans don't think climate change will affect them.
Since terrorism ranks as most Americans' number one concern, it is difficult to make the connection between Obama's contention and the increasing likelihood of ISIS-inspired attacks on the homeland. Climate change is an atmospheric occurrence; ISIS, an ideology. During this period of heightened tension, Obama's critics include prominent Democrats worried that the president's lax approach to immigration enforcement could provide terrorists with easy entry, a probability completely unrelated to climate change.
In a recent interview, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), formerly the ranking House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, said that the administration has no idea who's coming into the U.S., and that the nation is vulnerable. Cuellar pointed to the more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors and adult aliens who crossed during the last two summers, and the Syrians who have already entered Laredo, surrendered to Border Patrol officials and requested political asylum. For Syrians, entering illegally, making their claim, and being released on bond shortly after, Cuellar said, is easier than waiting the average 18-24 months to be properly processed.
Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees have joined the flood of unvetted Central Americans who get into the U.S. illegally. The Border Patrol reported a spike in unaccompanied minors and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in September and October by using the same method as the Middle Easterners …surrendering to the Border Patrol and seeking asylum.
Away from the border and on Capitol Hill, calls have increased for Congress to suspend the visa waiver program which allows nationals from 38-approved countries to enter the U.S. without a visa. The countries include France and Belgium, nations where homegrown terrorists carried out the Paris murders. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Scott Perry (D-PA) have introduced bipartisan legislation that would suspend the VWP for countries with citizens that have joined Islamic extremists. Gabbard, an Army veteran who served two tours in the Middle East, called for "action now," and said that if the State Department doesn't close the VWP loophole, and allows terrorists to attack America, "the impacts will be devastating."
Whatever comes next on Capitol Hill regarding refugee policy will be dramatic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged that refugee policy will be addressed in the Omnibus spending bill. Many GOP legislators, who passed a bill last month to tighten security measures on incoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees, insist on a tough stance from Republican leadership. Seventy Republicans want funding for refugee resettlement completely stripped from the spending bill and VWP eliminated. Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass the omnibus bill and to avoid a government shutdown.
Insiders report that the broad congressional momentum to ban Syrian refugees has slowed, and some prominent Republicans are on board with revising the House bill's language. In their letter to Congress, national security experts like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, retired Gen. David Petraeus and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, urged blocking the House bill.
Americans, on the whole, however, are alarmed about the George Washington University findings in its "ISIS in America" report. Since March 2014, law enforcement has arrested 71 U.S. residents, including 56 in 2015, with Islamic State ties. Should Congress fails to deliver powerful legislation that protects the nation, it will represent another example where politics outweighed security.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987.