Photo: Texas Monthly

O’Rourke: Changing “American SAFE Act” unnecessary, counterproductive & threatens US security

My first and most important priority is the security and safety of the people of the United States. It is with this in mind that I have spent the last week reviewing our refugee screening protocols and meeting with federal law enforcement and intelligence community leadership responsible for protecting our country.

I have also sought the counsel of subject matter experts; listened to the questions asked and comments made by my colleagues; and read and listened to the thoughts and concerns of the people I represent.

All of this has convinced me that a proposed change to the current refugee screening process (H.R. 4038, aka the “American SAFE Act”) is not only unnecessary; it is counterproductive and will potentially undermine the security of this country.

The last two Secretaries of Homeland Security, including Michael Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, say that “the process that is currently in place is thorough and robust and, so long as it is fully implemented and not diluted, it will allow us to safely admit the most vulnerable refugees while protecting the American people.” H.R. 4038 jeopardizes that goal.

Our process for reviewing refugee applications is rigorous and effective. It takes 18-24 months to review an application, and only a small minority of those who apply are accepted. Of the 23,000 Syrian refugees referred to the United States since 2011 by the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, only 7,000 made it to a second stage of our review process.

Of those, only 2,000 were admitted to the U.S. And those were the most vulnerable – the children, the old and the families fleeing brutality and torture. Only 2% of them were single males of working age.

The process proposed in today’s bill would create unnecessary, duplicative work and processes for U.S. security agencies. This would significantly delay the current rigorous process by up to 2 years, according to the Administration. In effect, it would close the door on refugees during the single greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.

In addition, FBI Director James Comey says this legislation is “counterproductive to national security.” And according to President Obama, this will undermine our coalition in Iraq and Syria and strengthen ISIS by demonstrating that the United States is not willing to accept screened Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

It plays into our enemy’s propaganda as it tarnishes the appeal of our historic ability to safely assimilate the oppressed and persecuted and seems to confirm their misrepresentation of our objectives in the Middle East (that we care nothing for the lives of those affected by this horrific violence). It also weakens our bonds with indispensable allies like Jordan (which has taken in 1.4 million Syrian refugees), Turkey (1.9 million refugees) and France (6,700 refugees so far, though after the Paris attacks President Hollande confirmed their commitment to accept 25,000 more).

Whether it is ensuring the safety of our families and communities, delivering on our national security objectives around the world or fulfilling our historic humanitarian mission to safely provide harbor for those in greatest need of the protection and help of the United States, I believe that the current refugee screening process is the best one to achieve our most important priorities.

Author: Congressman Beto O’Rourke