The Outstater: A Mayor Immigrates

November 24, 2015

“There is surely no more squalid idea than that propagated by the death-cult calling itself Islamic State. And there is no finer idea than the freedom that defines Western societies. Let’s not be shy about saying so.” — Dan Hannan

THE MAYOR of my mid-sized Hoosier town is a “Hey, Norm” type of guy, the fellow you are always glad to see at the end of the bar when you walk into your neighborhood tavern. You would have trouble finding a half dozen people in town who strongly dislike him — until the other day, at least.

The mayor has been moved by the headlines. “Our nation has always been a beacon of hope for those seeking peace and protection from persecution,” said the letter he signed with 60 like-minded mayors. It asked Congress to take no action that will prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States “after they have completed a screening process.”

In that, the mayor may have bitten off more solipsism than he could chew. Syria is one place. Our town is quite another. Screening out unfit nephews from the meter readers is one thing. Screening out foreign-born extremists is another. The mayor, a kind gentleman, would be shocked to learn that his heartfelt appeal represents an invitation to horror, statistically anyway.

Let’s take a look at the federal screening process in which he places his faith. Tom Huston, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, offers an assessment of the general risk.

If the mayors’ advice is heeded, there is no reason that the number of vetted Syrian refugees should not be increased from the 10,000 that Barack Obama has proposed to 65,000, the number suggested by Hillary Clinton.

Huston, though, throws out a caution: “Our experience with the vetted refugees from Chechnya who invested in a couple of pressure cookers to celebrate the Boston Marathon may argue against gambling too much on the skill of those who do our vetting.”

Using figures supplied by the London-based economist Irwin Stelzer, Huston argues that even if you grant government screeners a certainty rate of 99 percent — extraordinary for government work — it would mean that the mayors’ gesture of noblesse oblige would permit 650 new Syrian terrorists to enter the country.

And if in the unlikely though perfectly just event that those terrorists were distributed evenly among the towns whose mayors signed the letter, it would mean that about 10 prospective bombers, beheaders and mass executioners of infidels would take up residency as our neighbors. Paris was brought to its knees by somewhere between eight and 20, leaving our group shorthanded but still worrisome.

Huston has more statistical bad news. Quoting a new Pew Research report, he says that Muslim immigration to the U.S. already is about 270,000 annually. The report suggests that 5 percent or 13,500 of each year’s group may have terrorist sympathies, not counting second- and third-generation immigrants later attracted to the cause, e.g., the Minnesota Somali-American fellows arrested this summer by the FBI on their way to Syria.

Our mayor, bless his heart, is willing to take this humanitarian gamble. But is it a good one — statistically? It all depends, Huston says, on whether it is your life or someone else’s at stake.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.

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