CONGRESSMAN LIEU STATEMENT ON SYRIAN AND IRAQI REFUGEE CRISIS

November 19, 2015
Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County)  issued the following statement regarding the Syrian/Iraqi Refugee Crisis and House Republican legislation (H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies [SAFE] Act of 2015) to “pause” admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States.

“My thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last week.  Americans are justifiably concerned about security here at home and Congress is rightfully questioning homeland security and intelligence officials to ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent a similar attack in the United States.

During these times of crisis, the best angels of the American character must not be overtaken by fear and xenophobia.  In search of a politically expedient solution, some are calling on the government to stop admitting Syrian refugees.  Others have suggested we block only Muslims – a bigoted idea and a desecration of our nation’s foundational religious freedoms.

Saying we need to choose between our refugee program and protecting national security is a false choice.  It is also intellectually dishonest. 

There is not a single example of a refugee committing a terrorist act in the United States.  In Paris, the attacks were actually perpetrated by French nationals and Belgians, not Syrian refugees.  Should we ban travel from French citizens and Belgians to America because some of them committed terrorist acts in Paris?  If that idea sounds ridiculous, then so should the idea of banning children, widows, and seniors fleeing Syria from seeking safety in the United States.

Of the approximate 2,200 Syrian refugees already admitted to the United States, half are children and a quarter are senior citizens.  Refusing to help some of the most vulnerable human beings in the world is not just un-American, it is an irrational overreaction with zero policy justification.  

As an Air Force officer stationed in Guam during the mid-1990s, I participated in Operation PACIFIC HAVEN where the United States extracted thousands of Kurds out of northern Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering them.  I saw first-hand the extensive screening process that the U.S. conducted of the Kurdish refugees before bringing many of them to the mainland.  Our nation’s screening process has only improved since then.  

As Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently testified before Congress, refugees are already “subject to the highest level of security checks” before being admitted into the United States.  It is an arduous 18-to-24 month process that puts UN-registered refugees through repeated screenings and background checks involving multiple government agencies.  

House Republicans have introduced hastily-written legislation that would effectively shutter our program for refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.  This knee-jerk reaction demonizes the vulnerable human beings who are most threatened by the conflict and is strategically unwise.  

No one is happier about xenophobic, anti-Muslim, reactions than the so-called Islamic State.   Islamophobic hysteria is a prime recruiting tool for terrorist organizations.  This is exactly the kind of overreaction that they hope to achieve:  To use terrible acts of violence to horrify Western society into compromising our own humanity and way of life. 

The American story has in large part been written by intrepid souls fleeing persecution in search of a better life in a nation forged in liberty's name and dedicated to the equality of all. 

Anyone who would close our borders to orphans fleeing barrel bombs, when substantial security checks are in place, is simply admitting defeat.  They are surrendering to the tragic idea that America cannot be both strong and value-driven, that our union cannot be made more perfect by confronting fear and hatred and violence with even greater measures of strength, compassion and virtue.  We are better than that.”

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