Open Letter from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Regarding SAFE Act

November 19, 2015
Press Release

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.  The statement in The Hill by my Democratic colleague Representative Gerry Connolly best expressed my feelings:

"[But] when people said, 'Well, can't we work that out administratively by adding resources, delegating certification, maybe even collapsing all of this into a more expedited, accelerated process across the boardʻ' The answer wasn't, 'Well, no, statutorily we wouldn't be able to do that.' The answer was, 'We don't have the staff.'"

The argument, "Well, yes, this would make the vetting process safer but we just don't have the staff to do it," was simply not good enough for me.  If the Administration were truly committed to the refugee program, then they would find a way to take care of the vetting logistics, including increasing staff if necessary to make it happen.

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.



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