Tagged: asylum

Screening of Syrian Refugees, Explained

Last week, I wrote a post against calls to ban digital encryption and to deny admitting Syrian refugees in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris. In the same vein, ATTN produced an explainer video detailing the rigorous screening process that would-be refugees must endure before resettling in the United States.

The video, voiced by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, evokes our collective sympathy to make the argument that admitting refugees to United States is not only safe for but also vital for the survival of thousands of people.

Some of the persusasive strategies include:

  1. It explains that most of the Syrian refugees are women, children, and families, presumably to induce a more sympathetic response than if Syrian refugees were mostly men.
  2. It illustrates the “rigourous screening process” with the metal detectors you see at an airport, except that there are three of them. This suggests that refugee screening process is at least trebly secure than an airport security checkpoint.
  3. It demonstrates the refugee screening process with a woman named Reema and her children, who are seeking refugee status after fleeing Syria.
  4. It visually contrasts Syria and the United States: the former is a site of ruins devasted by bombings, while the US consists of a suburban, single-family home.
  5. It lists the five(!) federal government bureaus that must approve the refugee application.
  6. It shows a timeline of when the United States has admitted refugees. Unacknowledged in the narration, however, is that the US admits refugees in years of international crises and that the number has been steadily declining since the latter-half of twentieth century.
The video explains the screening process through Reema and her children.

The video explains the screening process through Reema and her children.

The presusasive strategies in this video would make an excellent example for students of political communication. It is illustrated with well-designed graphics and compelling narration. However, I should caution against anyone dismissing the video, as propaganda for example, on the basis of employing persuasive strategies listed above. Being presusaive does not make it false or misleading.


Instead, it important that it be persuasive because, as the video concludes, welcoming “men, women, and children who are refugees fleeing violence” is something we can and must do.

Paris: One Week Later, Two Bits of Nonsense

It’s been a week since Paris was terrorized in a series of coordinated attacks. For the most part, the world has responded appropriately:

But in the week since, two political threads have emerged that will be utterly ineffective and even counter productive for preventing a similar attack.

Allowing governments to circumvent encryption on smartphones and other communication platforms

In the last week, there has been no evidence to prove that the Paris attackers were in fact communicating with each other using encrypted smartphones or some other commercial. In fact, it looks like they communicating in the clear. But even if they were, calls for installing backdoors to devices will only weaken our collective security, not protect it. The long-standing collective wisdom is that if there’s a backdoor for “good guys” (i.e., the government) then it will be there for “bad guys” (i.e., malicious hackers), too. Moreover, as Richard Forno concluded, because “strong” encryption exists, forcing us to use “weak” encryption will do no good because “strong” encryption exists. We will have to learn to live with it. Forno writes:

We must recognize that strong mathematical equations (i.e., cryptography) are one of those things we can’t disinvent—and that the laws of math are, for the moment, not subject to the whims of man or his legal system.”

Forcing companies to install backdoors for the “good guys” (i.e., most every smartphone user) will make the “bad guys” (i.e., terrorists or other covert criminals) to use something else that’s actually secure. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have our data easily compromised by whatever backdoor the government has mandated.

Blocking Syrian political refugees from seeking asylum

At last count, about half of the US state governors, almost all of them Republicans, have said they would not allow Syrian refugees from settling in their states. And yesterday, the mostly Republican and brain-dead House voted to impose screening measures for asylum seekers. The thinking is that closing our borders to Syria will isolate us from a potential group of terrorists. But as has been clear after last Friday, these attacks were staged by disaffected European nationals, not Syrian immigrants to France or Belgium.

Denying Syrian refugees a safe harbor will not keep us any safer from potential terrorists and will only strengthen terrorist recruiting efforts. Zack Beauchamp argues that it is not only wrong to deny refugees asylum in the US, it actually helps ISIS:

if refugees do make it out, ISIS wants them to be treated badly — the more the West treats them with suspicion and fear, the more it supports ISIS’s narrative of a West that is hostile to Muslims and bolsters ISIS’s efforts to recruit from migrant communities in Europe.

In other words, publicly decrying Syrian refugees might win some points with the isolated, reactionary, and xenophobic crowd that make up the Republican primary voting base these days, but it also stirs up the isolated, reactionary, and disenfranchised crowd that agitate potential terrorists. Instead of creating a firewall to isolate a foreign threat, it will only foster home-grown terrorists willing to attack their own countries.