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H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015

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Refugees

Yesterday the House considered H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015. This legislation was rushed to the floor in response to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. The tragic terrorist attacks in Paris have brought a renewed focus on the process for screening refugees. While I understand that some people are concerned about accepting Syrian refugees, the United States has a long history of helping innocent people who are fleeing grave danger. So many innocent lives are at stake and we simply cannot turn away from their suffering. I note, too, that President Hollande of France, whose capital suffered these atrocities, yesterday reaffirmed French commitment to welcome 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

Of course, we need to make certain our own citizens are kept safe. The existing process for screening refugees now takes between 18-24 months with numerous layers of review by United States security agencies. All of this is done before refugees are even permitted to enter the US. I want to emphasize a few additional points about refugee admission.

  • People should know that it took my office well over two years to help a brave Afghan who jeopardized his life and the lives of his family when he chose to become a translator for our troops. He had met regularly with ranking US officers, all of whom vouched for him. We are still working on comparable Afghan and Iraqi cases. If it takes this long to help someone who freely chose to support American armed forces, you can rest assured the process will be even more thorough and time consuming for typical refugees.
  • Of the 2,000+ Syrian refugees already in the US, only 2% are “fighting age” males. The rest are women, children, and elderly persons.
  • Last year, the US granted refuge to more than 3,100 Iranians. Their country would never cooperate with us to determine who is truly a refugee fleeing persecution; Iran is certainly no friend of the US; and Iran is a well known supporter of certain terrorist groups. Yet no one complained about our process then.
  • The US has traditionally accepted refugees from countries with governments or political movements determined to harm the United States. Several of those “enemy aliens” helped us win World War II. Throughout the Cold War, we granted asylum to thousands of people persecuted by the Soviet Union.
  • Many avowed terrorists, including some killed in Paris, are citizens of EU countries. They are thus eligible to enter the United States without a visa. Under the Visa Waiver Program, a reciprocal agreement between the US and about 40 other democratic countries, citizens may travel freely without any prior interview or investigation. Customs and Border Patrol screens all entrants at US ports of entry, but we may need to rethink aspects of this program. This is unfortunate because travel promotes mutual understanding, but, unfortunately, citizens of our closest allies now pose a danger to all free societies.

The real intent of H.R. 4038 is to indefinitely delay the already extensive screening process by imposing a number of additional certification requirements. Instead of strengthening the existing system of screening, H.R. 4038 essentially establishes a whole new, and untested, system, which will take years to implement.

The real reason the House was forced to vote on a hastily drafted bill is fear-mongering for political gain. If it were otherwise, the Republican leadership would have allowed at least a few amendments to be considered. If we could have amended the bill just a little, everyone would have voted for it, it would have passed in the Senate, the President would have signed it and it would become law. We might even have been able to approve new funds for agencies tasked with security screening. Instead, this bill will never be enacted – but the political talking points remain available.

The State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other intelligence agencies are all now involved in screening refugees. Medical screenings, fingerprinting, background checks and interviews with trained security personnel are all now required before entry is approved. Investigators review travel history, family background, employment and whether or not the applicant qualifies as a refugee. Refugees from Syria are subject to additional layers of screening.

In light of the tragic attacks in Paris, there is an understandable focus on the safety of our citizens. We should ensure the safety of all Americans, but we can and should do it while continuing our proud American tradition of welcoming our share of "tempest tossed" refugees. Numerous national advocacy organizations, aware of past tragedies, oppose this legislation, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and World Relief. I voted NO. H.R. 4038 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

242

2

0

2

DEMOCRAT

47

135

0

6

TOTAL

289

137

0

8

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

2

7

0

0



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