Last Week Tonight

John Oliver reveals the full vetting process for Syrian refugees

"There was only one time in American history when the fear of refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true, and we'll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday."

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On this year’s last episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver conducted an extensive segment on the week’s debates over the Paris attacks and Syrian refugees. France has begun to heal, and President Hollande has asked the people of Paris to go back to their cafes and museums, because those institutions are what makes France the cultural juggernaut it has always been. “To me, that is the best sign that France is going to be okay. It’s sort of like how New Yorkers knew this city was going to bounce back after 9/11. the first time a heavy set man in a jets visor stole a cab from them and told them to go f— themselves. That is what healing looks like.”

Here in the US, a debate has arisen over Obama’s pledge to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria. After it was discovered that one of the Paris attackers may have used the Syrian refugee program to immigrate to France, many US officials have had second thoughts, and 31 governors have announced that they would not accept refugees, despite their inability to legally make such a ban. “Even if they could,” says Oliver, “Syrians could just walk between states like anyone else. The lines on maps are not crocodile-filled moats.”

The American reaction to the refugees has garnered comparisons to Japanese internment camps, “one of this nation’s greatest sources of shame,” and a 1939 decision by US authorities to turn away a ship full of Jewish refugees from Germany. Oliver wants to make sure we’re aware that every generation has had a similar reaction to refugees, but their fears have been largely unfounded. “In fact,” he says, “there was only one time in American history when the fear of refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true, and we’ll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday.”

It is fair to be concerned about safety, Oliver reasons, but many of the officials voicing concerns have shown little knowledge of the refugee process. Most are quick to express concern over the vetting process, saying there is no way to track these individuals. I quote Oliver’s full response below.

“Let me walk you through what our screening process actually is. If you are a refugee, first, you apply through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which collects documents and performs interviews. Incidentally, less than one percent of refugees worldwide end up being recommended for resettlement. But if you’re one of them, you might then be referred to the State Department to begin the vetting process.

At this point, more information is collected. You’ll be put through security screenings by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. And if you’re a Syrian refugee, you’ll get an additional layer of screening called the ‘Syrian Enhanced Review,’ which may include a further check by a special part of Homeland Security, the USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate. And don’t relax yet, cause we’ve barely even started.

Then, you finally get an interview with USCIS officers, and you’ll also be fingerprinted so your prints can be run through the biometric databases of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. And if you make it through all that, you’ll then have health screenings, which, let’s face it, may not go too well for you, because you may have given yourself a stroke getting through this process so far. But if everything comes back clear, you’ll be enrolled in cultural orientation classes, all while your information continues to be checked recurrently against terrorist databases to make sure that no new information comes in that wasn’t caught before.

All of that has to happen before you get near a plane. This process typically takes 18 to 24 months once you’ve been referred by the UN to the United States. This is the most rigorous vetting anyone has to face before entering this country. No terrorist in their right mind would choose this path, when the visa process requires far less effort. But nevertheless, the House still voted on Thursday to add a few more steps,” including a step that would require the Head of the FBI to sign off on every refugee. “At this point,” says Oliver, “why don’t we include a pie eating contest, a spelling bee, and an evening wear portion?”

Watch the video to see Oliver further expose the fallacies in the anti-refugee argument, and then reveal what France has decided to do about their promise to take in 30,000 refugees.

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