Breanna Denney/Nevada Sagebrush Northern Nevada International Center Executive Director Carina Black poses in front of the NNIC on Monday, April 25. The NNIC applied last year to accept refugees.

Breanna Denney/Nevada Sagebrush
Northern Nevada International Center Executive Director Carina Black poses in front of the NNIC on Monday, April 25. The NNIC applied last year to accept refugees.

By Will Yepez

In 2014, 1.66 million people submitted applications to the U.S. for political asylum, the highest number ever. In November 2015, the Northern Nevada International Center sent an application to the U.S. Department of State to start accepting refugees into Reno. The NNIC is affiliated with the University of Nevada, Reno, and is a nonprofit organization. The State Department granted the NNIC provisional approval in February 2016.

If nothing impedes the process, this would allow refugees from Syria, Columbia, Iraq and other countries to begin settling in Reno. In light of recent attacks on Paris and Brussels, Gallup found that 60 percent of Americans are apprehensive about accepting refugees from Syria.

The Mayor’s Office has supported the humanitarian goals of the organization, but have not formally supported the application to allow in refugees. Nevada  Gov. Brian Sandoval had expressed concerns but has managed to sidestep the issue by claiming only the federal government has authority to resettle refugees.

The United States has a long history of being a political and religious safe haven for people who were on the losing side in their own countries. Many argue the United States should keep this tradition by assisting those who are ostracized by their own country.

Kyle Sharp, president of the UNR Young Democrats of UNR, expressed a similar sentiment.

“We are a nation that welcomes. We are a nation that protects,” Sharp said.

Sharp also stated he fully supports refugees being allowed into Reno as long as they are subject to intense security measures. The well-being of American citizens and the protection from terrorism is one of the chief concerns when it comes to allowing refugees inside the borders. In response, Sharp stated we should not shut out another country because “ we are afraid of a small minority of people living in that nation.”

In 2015, President Obama committed to bringing over 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton announced on “Face the Nation” that she would like to see the U.S. move the number of refugees from “what is a good start at 10,000 to 65,000.”

However, on the other side of the aisle, more than two dozen Republican governors have publicly announced they will not allow Syrian refugees to enter their states. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana went as far as to issue an executive order preventing refugees from being settled in his state. Despite the strong stance by these governors, the ultimate power to resettle refugees lies with the federal government and the president.

To fully understand the motivation for allowing refugees into Reno it is important to know what a refugee is. In the United States, someone is declared a refugee only after being identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a refugee camp. After being identified, to apply for admission into the United States the refugee must declare and prove they are being persecuted, or at risk of being persecuted, for their race, religion, nationality, public opinion or membership of a social group. In 2016, more than 60 million people will be displaced because of war and conflict within their country. Despite the apparent need for homes for these refugees, many are still concerned about the vetting and security measures.

Every refugee must go through rigorous security and background checks before entering the United States. The UNHCR does the first round of security checks and if they pass these initial tests, the United States has various organizations that screen them. Every refugee must be interviewed by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and have a background check by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and other government agencies.

If the individual, or anyone linked to this individual, does not pass the vetting criteria, this person is denied entrance. The entire vetting process takes place with the refugee outside of the United States over the course of two to three years, but the question remains: do the background checks miss anything? According to the CATO institute, out of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks outside the United States, and none were successful. To provide a comparison, 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder just in 2014.

The United States already resettles more refugees than any other country in the world, and Reno could see an economic advantage from becoming a host for refugees. According to Dr. Carina Black, executive director of the NNIC, since refugees will be supported by federal programs, “bringing refugees to Reno will actually bring more federal dollars here.”

“Unlike in Europe, here refugees need to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible, so a number of programs exist to assist them with these steps,” Black said.

When asked why many people have trepidation about placing refugees here, she stated many are “not knowledgeable about the vetting process and how the program has been in existence in the U.S. since 1980.”

The NNIC hopes to start hosting these refugees as soon as June 2016.

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