When considering whether to vote in favor of legislation, I often ask myself a simple question: Is this in the best interest of the American people? I believe that should be a guiding principle for all our elected officials when they are faced with a major decision.
Recently, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan to increase the number of refugees allowed into the United States. Under their plan, the Obama Administration plans to accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria.
As soon as I heard this news, I had major concerns about the impact this decision would have on the American people and the national security of our country. Let me explain why.
Currently, Syria is home to a major conflict between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, fighters with the Islamic State, and many different factions of rebels who wish to overrun the government. This brutal fighting has resulted in a mass exodus of Syrian people looking to escape their war torn country.
That’s where President Obama’s decision comes into play. As defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The federal government has a process for screening and accepting these individuals before allowing their admission into the US, and the Syrian people can certainly make a strong case to be admitted.
However, I have serious concerns about the threat of terrorists infiltrating the refugee system and entering the United States. Groups like the Islamic State have made clear that they would attempt to disguise terrorist operatives as refugees.
I am not the only one who has these concerns. In fact, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently called the migrant issue a “huge concern” and said that “we don’t put it past the likes of [the Islamic State] to infiltrate operatives among these refugees.”
At a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implied that bringing in a large number of Syrian refugees would represent a threat to our national security. DHS officials have even admitted that Syria does not have a computer database to check the criminal and terrorist records of these refugees.
The issue is especially of interest to those of us in Southwest Alabama because Mobile is home to one of the 190 State Department refugee affiliates. This means Syrian refugees could be placed in our local community.
That is why I sent a letter to the Department of State asking for information about the screening process the refugees would be required to go through. In response to my letter, I was invited to attend a classified briefing to learn more about the screening process. Unfortunately, I left the briefing with many of the same concerns.
So after listening to the concerns of my constituents and getting more information from the State Department, I decided to support H.R. 3573, the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act. This bill would require approval from both the House and the Senate before refugees could be admitted to the United States. The bill would also give Congress the authority to block any inadequate refugee resettlement plan.
There is simply no way to know for sure that terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, are not going to infiltrate the refugee process, and the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act will ensure that Congress, and in turn the American people, have the final say when it comes to increasing the number of refugees.
On this issue, like many others, I can’t help but ask myself: Is this in the best interest of the American people? At this point, it seems clear the answer is no.
Bradley Byrne is a member of the U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.