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The Paris Attack’s Impacts on the U.S. Immigration Policy

Dec 07, 2015
  • Chen Jimin

    Guest Researcher, Center for Peace and Development Studies, China Association for International Friendly Contact

Immigration policy is a serious and important issue in American politics. At the inauguration ceremony in January 2013, President Obama declared he would take up US immigration policy reform as one of the priorities in the second term. So far, this goal remains unfulfilled. However, the debates on immigration policy in the United States have been continuing, especially during the presidential election. Actually, the debate is also very sensitive and vulnerable to stimulation from external factors. The Paris attack on Nov. 13 is having the following major impacts on the U.S immigration policy:

First, it changes the object and the focus of US immigration policy debate as well as highlighting the differences of the two parties on this issue. Previously, politicians were mainly talking about immigrants, including unauthorized immigrants and legal immigrants, with the focus on the impacts of immigration on US employment and economic growth. However, after the Paris terrorist attack, they are concerned with the refugee problem, especially Syrian refugees; the focus has turned from economic issues to national-security issues. Recently, President Obama said the United States would host an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year, which led to differences between the Democrats and Republicans. The Pew Research Center released a report in September that said 69 percent of Democratic respondents support accepting more refugees while up to 67% of the Republicans oppose it. [1]

In the second Democratic presidential candidates’ debate on Nov. 14, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said the number of Syrian refugees the United States accepts should increase to 65,000. [2] But the Republicans were ready to block Obama’s refugee plan on national-security grounds. For example, the Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal said he signed an executive order instructing all state agencies to take all available steps to stop the relocation of Syrian refugee in the state. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a letter to President Obama that “Given the tragic attacks in Paris and the threats we have already seen, Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas.” [3]

Second, the US immigration policy faces the dilemma of balancing security considerations and humanitarian relief. There is no doubt that the refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis. As the superpower and taking “human rights” as an important national value, the United States should take major responsibility in response to the refugee crisis. However, after the deadly Paris attack, national security stands out in the US politics and public concerns. Faced with voters’ security concerns, the Republican presidential candidates even made a proposal to screen the refugees’ religions first and then adpoted different policies between the Christian refugees and Muslim refugees.

In this regard, President Obama expressed strong criticism, calling it “shameful” and “a betrayal” of US values. [4] However, the Obama administration must also respond to the security concerns of the American people, and strive to achieve a balance in the security and humanitarian aspects. During the G20 summit, President Obama announced the United States would continue to accept refugees, including refugees from Syria, as well as take more rigorous security steps. He said: “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”[5] Obviously, how to crack the dilemma of security considerations and humanitarian aid will become a major test of the Obama administration.

Thirdly, the US anti-Muslim immigrants’ sentiment is growing with the risk of a clash of civilizations increasing. After the Paris attack, the attitudes of many Americans towards the Muslim communities can be summarized as “fear” and “resistance”. For example, at the Republican candidate Donald Trump’s rally, a police officer in Texas described Syrian refugees as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. A woman also at a Trump rally held a homemade sign reading “No Muslim refugees.” She said in an interview that “I don’t mind taking refugees who are Christian, but the Muslims scare me.” [6] For many Muslims living in the US, it is one of the most difficult times in recent memory. Some have even compared the current climate to the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. [7]

Meanwhile, the clash of civilizations in American society is also looming. For a significant number of Americans, Islam in general is perceived as a dangerous foreign other, closely associated with the medieval theologies of Islamic State and Al Qaeda, or the terror attacks carried out by extremists since 9/11, which has been further strengthened after the terrorist attacks in Paris. [8] Therefore, the United States should pay enough attention to and vigilance against social discrimination while it responds to the refugee crisis and combats terrorism. [9]

[1] “Mixed Views of Initial U.S. Response to Europe’s Migrant Crisis,” Sep. 29, 2015,

[2]Jenna Johnson, “Conservative suspicions of refugees grow in wake of Paris attacks,” November 15, 2015,

[3] Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Lisa Mascaro, “Momentum builds among states to reject Syrian refugees after Paris attacks,” Nov. 16, 2015,

[4] Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Lisa Mascaro, “Momentum builds among states to reject Syrian refugees after Paris attacks,” Nov. 16, 2015,

[5] The White House, “Press Conference by President Obama (Antalya, Turkey),” Nov. 16, 2015,

[6]Jenna Johnson, “Conservative suspicions of refugees grow in wake of Paris attacks,” Nov. 15, 2015,

[7] Harry Bruinius, “Amid dark year for American Muslims, deeper signs of ‘hope’,” Oct. 16, 2015,

[8] Harry Bruinius, “Amid dark year for American Muslims, deeper signs of ‘hope’,” Oct. 16, 2015,

[9]Gideon Rachman, “Do Paris terror attacks highlight a clash of civilizations?” Financial Times, Nov.r 16, 2015,; Vikram Singh, Ken Gude, Peter Juul, William F. Wechsler, Hardin Lang, Brian Katulis, “After the Paris Attacks: Defeating ISIS and Preserving American Values,” Nov. 19, 2015,

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