Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr.: Immigration Subcommittee Hearing on the Syrian Refugee Crisis and U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
“This hearing, which focuses on the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on the security of our Nation’s Refugee Admissions Program, has the potential to shed meaningful light on critical issues of interest to all Americans.
“Unfortunately and with all due respect to our witnesses, the value of today’s undertaking is greatly diminished by the fact that immediately following the conclusion of this hearing, we will go directly to the floor to vote on H.R. 4038, the so-called 'American SAFE Act,' a bill that would effectively shut down refugee processing for Syrians and Iraqis.
“Clearly, there are no easy solutions to a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude, as well as the security threats we will hear about today.
“Yet, H.R. 4038 is not the right answer and I want the witnesses to focus on what should be our response, keeping in mind these factors.
“To begin with, while ensuring the safety of all Americans should be our top priority, H.R. 4038, which would effectively debar Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, does nothing to promote security.
“This measure sets unreasonable clearance standards that the Department of Homeland Security cannot meet and thereby it would halt refugee resettlement in the United States.
"Without question, the Program should be held to the highest standards to ensure – to the greatest extent possible – that the security screening is thorough, effective, and timely.
“In fact, refugees are already subject to the highest level of vetting – more than any other traveler or immigrant to the United States.
“This extensive screening process – performed by the Departments of Homeland Security and State, in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Inestigation, and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies – relies on methodical and exhaustive background checks that often take between 18 to 24 months on average to complete and even longer in many cases.
“But, like any system, there can be room for further improvement. So I would appreciate your thoughts on how we can accomplish that goal.
“Second, we must keep in mind that our Nation was founded by immigrants and has historically welcomed refugees when there is suffering around the globe.
“Whether it is an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in Asia, or four years of Civil War in Syria with no end in sight – the world looks to the United States. We provide protections for refugees and asylum seekers, especially women and children.
“Nevertheless, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on our shores and the tragic November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, we must be vigilant especially in the midst of a global refugee crisis.
“H.R. 4038, however, is an extreme over-reaction to these latest security concerns.
“Rather than shutting our doors to these desperate men, women, and children who are risking their lives to escape death and torture in their homelands, we should work to utilize our immense resources and good intentions of our citizens to welcome them.
“And, finally, Congress needs to do its part by properly funding refugee resettlement as well as funding our federal agencies so they have the necessary personnel and programs to complete security checks.
“Rather than slamming our doors to the world’s most vulnerable, we should be considering legislation to strengthen and expand refugee programs.
“For example, I am a co-sponsor of H.R.1568, the “Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015,” which would allow persecuted individuals in ISIS-held territories in Iraq and Syria to apply directly to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
“Rather than rushing to the floor to consider legislation that was introduced just two days ago and that has not been the subject of even a single hearing, we should devote our legislative resources to developing meaningful solutions.”