WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 19 voted 289-137 to pass H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015.
This bill, which is opposed by the Obama Administration, adds new certification requirements to the existing refugee admissions process, including requirements that the FBI director, the homeland security secretary, and the national intelligence director concur on the approval of each refugee admitted from Iraq and Syria.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus’ chair, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), and chair emeritus, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Santa Clara), spoke out against the bill, but two CAPAC members voted for it.
“The terrorist attacks in Paris were horrifying,” said Chu. “Our thoughts are with the victims and all of France as we are reminded of our own need to ensure the safety of our cities and people. But this bill is not the solution. We must stop using fear tactics as a means to enact bad policy.
“The reality is that we already have in place one of the strictest refugee policies in the world. It takes up to two years of multiple in-person interviews, background checks, and interagency cooperation before a refugee is allowed into the U.S. This process, thanks to the hard work of our intelligence and security communities, is and has been successful at weeding out threats. And that is why the vast majority of refugees admitted are widows, orphans, and victims of torture.
“It would be wrong from a moral and a security standpoint to abandon them in refugee camps where they are subject to violence or radicalization. I agree that we need a serious plan to confront the threat of ISIS, but that should not begin with attacks on frightened and vulnerable women and children. Closing our borders to refugees is a mistake and a violation of our country’s values.”
“Today, we have people fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East, Central America, Asia, and Africa who are counting on the United States to stay true to its values of humanity, compassion, and religious freedom,” said Honda. “I opposed the U.S. SAFE Act because it upends our existing rigorous refugee process and slams the door in the face of the very people fleeing ISIL and its atrocities. It is during times of peril that we must remember the lessons we have learned and stay anchored to our Constitution. It is what makes our nation great.
“We need only look to the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to see how fear-based decisions can leave a lasting dark spot on our proud history. We cannot repeat our mistakes born from racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. Now is the time to uphold the legacy of the United States as a country founded by immigrants and people seeking freedom and liberty.”
Other CAPAC members who voted no include Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles), Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Mark Takano (D-Riverside). Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii) did not vote.
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Sacramento), who supported the SAFE Act, said, “It is critical that our first priority is to keep America safe – that is why I voted today for a bill to ensure that all Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted.
“However, we can’t let the terrorists win and influence who we are as Americans. Our country has always been a place for those fleeing violence or oppression and we must stay true to those values.
“This additional screening step will ensure that we know those coming into the country are not a security threat.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) issued the following open letter to her constituents: “I appreciate hearing from so many of you as you express your strong feelings for and against the SAFE Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives recently. I’d like to share with you why I voted for the bill.
“True to our history and values as a nation, I believe we must offer refuge to the most vulnerable and those in need, while simultaneously ensuring the safety of the American people. In this regard, this bill is not meant to keep Syrian refugees from entering into the United States. This was a vote to make sure the program to vet these refugees is sufficient to protect Americans.
“In other words, voting for this bill was not a vote against refugees. Rather, it was a vote for bringing refugees into our country safely.
“When looking at how to vote on this measure, I considered two things: 1) the safety and security of the American people, and 2) the long-term viability and continuation of our country serving as a place of refuge for those who are truly in need of shelter.
“It would be a double disaster if someone who came to America as a refugee ended up engaging in a terrorist act. First, it would cost the lives of innocent Americans. Second, it could lead to the complete shutdown of our refugee program for a long, long time. This would be extremely unfortunate. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“It’s important for anyone who really cares about keeping our refugee programs open to seriously consider the negative impact to such programs if a terrorist attack occurred and a refugee were involved.
“This happened before, in 2009, when two al-Qaeda terrorists came to the U.S. as refugees from Iraq, and were actively supporting al-Qaeda from the U.S. while also plotting an attack on U.S. soil. Following their discovery and arrest, the refugee program for Iraqis was completely shut down for six months.
“These were my concerns when I considered how to vote on this bill. Originally, like many Democrats, I was going to vote against the bill because I was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the Department of Homeland Security and the administration — I was ready to accept their claims that the vetting process is thorough, and that this bill would be impossible to implement.
“But on the morning of the vote, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough failed to answer simple questions about why they were opposed to the bill, which led me to change my mind …
“If this bill comes before the House again (if the Senate passes it and the president vetoes it), and the administration can come up with a better argument than ‘We’ll have to increase staff,’ I will listen with an open mind and consider voting to uphold the president’s veto. But ‘lack of staff’ is not a legitimate reason for them to refuse certifying that the refugee vetting process is thorough and complete.
“I must make another point in connection with this: Our government’s decision in 2011 to overthrow and replace the Syrian government of Assad is what has led to the rise and strengthening of ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups, and in turn the Syrian refugee crisis. The reality is that the U.S. Syrian refugee program will have very little impact on the problem of millions of Syrians who are suffering and displaced by that illegal war.
“Putting it bluntly, our refugee program and commitment to bring into the U.S. 10,000 refugees from Syria appears to me to be little more than a salve on the conscience of our leaders whose interventionist policies have resulted in millions of Syrians being killed, wounded, maimed, or made homeless. The U.S. war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad is creating more refugees in a single week than we plan to bring to the U.S. in an entire year.
“The most humane thing that we can do is stop this illegal, counterproductive war, focus on defeating ISIS, and make it so that Syria is a place where people can live once again.”