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The Boston Bombers were not Refugees-Neither was the Paris Attacker


In the wake of the Paris attacks, many are trying to connect refugees to terrorism. I’ve noted elsewhere that despite millions of refugees having been admitted since the U.S. refugee resettlement program began in its current form in 1980—including hundreds of thousands from the Middle East—not a single refugee has committed an act of terrorism in the United States.

Detractors of refugee resettlement, however, point to Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—the Boston Bombers—as evidence to the contrary. The pair of brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013 were not, however, refugees. They were, on the contrary, children of an asylee, according to the State Department, and the distinction is crucial.

Asylees and refugees share one thing in common: a fear of persecution in the their country of origin. But they differ in important ways. Most importantly, an asylee is self-selected—he arrives in the country from which he’s seeking status and applies for asylum. Under international law, people with a well-founded fear of persecution cannot be returned to their country of origin.

By contrast, refugees undergo a much different process. First, they must receive designation as a refugee by U.N. officials, most often in refugee camps. The United States selects only the most vulnerable cases for resettlement, such as those with almost no hope of ever returning to their home country or those who have been tortured.

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