Congressman Jim McGovern

Representing the 2nd District of Massachussetts
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Flickr icon
YouTube icon
RSS icon

McGovern Leads House Democrats in Debate on House GOP Syrian Refugee Bill

Nov 19, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), the second-highest ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, led the floor debate for House Democrats on H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act or American SAFE Act. Click here for video of the full video of the floor speech.

McGovern called out the House Republican bill as a dangerous step backward that does nothing to strengthen national security and only seeks to divide Americans by stirring fears about Syrian refugees. All refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States and the security process is working.

Earlier this year, McGovern and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and other members of Congress traveled to the Syrian border to see firsthand the suffering experienced by Syrian refugees and the need for the U.S. to continue its work with allies to provide humanitarian relief and address the refugee crisis.

Excerpts of Today’s Floor Speech by Congressman McGovern:

“Keeping Americans safe is our top priority and in the wake of the Paris attacks, that mission has never been more important. But in the days since those terrible attacks, there has been a deeply troubling debate about whether the U.S. should accept Syrian refugees. In the past week, we’ve heard far too many of our leaders stirring up fear and far too few talking about the facts.

“Americans want an honest and serious debate about how we can keep our country safe […] Instead of debating a bill that might actually strengthen and enhance our refugee resettlement screening process, we are debating a bill that appeals to the worst in us and hurts the very people who are fleeing the violence”

“The simple truth is that the United States already has in place the most rigorous screening process for refugee resettlement in the world […] We have already resettled over 1,800 Syrian refugees over the past 4 years in 130 communities across America.  In the past year, Massachusetts has resettled 62 Syrian refugees, including 24 in my hometown of Worcester.  And of the 2,174 Syrian refugees that we have resettled in the United States since 9/11, not a single one has been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds. Not one.

“America is at a critical crossroads. It’s moments like this that define who we are as a nation. This bill […] would only perpetuate the politics of fear and intolerance. Americans are better than that and now more than ever, we must stay true to our values. Our enemies want to divide us.

“We must not abandon the clear-eyed compassion that has made America the shining city on a hill for more than two centuries, giving hope to so many generations before us, in search of a better life for themselves and their children. […] We cannot turn our backs on the values at the heart of our identity as Americans. To do this would cede a victory to the terrorists.

“I am so proud of America’s leadership in providing $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in the region, more than any other country.  I am also proud that U.S. refugee resettlement places a priority on accepting widows with children and highly vulnerable individuals, especially the elderly and the infirm.

“Let’s stop wasting our time with a bill that’s going nowhere and fails to offer the serious approach we need to keep America safe and address this crisis.”

Full Text of Congressman McGovern’s Floor Speech is Below:

As Prepared for Delivery

“Today, we are about to debate the 46th closed rule this Congress, making this the most closed session of Congress in history. Speaker Ryan promised an open and deliberative process when he took the gavel. He has already reneged on that promise.

“Representatives Bennie Thompson and Zoe Lofgren offered an alternative to today’s bill that deserves debate on the House floor, but Republicans on the Rules Committee prohibited debate under this completely closed process.

“The bill we’re about to debate wasn't even introduced until 10:14 p.m. Tuesday night. There have been no hearings or mark-ups, and no opportunities for bipartisan input. Even more stunning, the Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today -- right now -- on the very subject we will vote on in an hour!

“We all understand why people are anxious and concerned.  We all watched with horror as the brutal attacks in Paris played out on our TV screens.  And our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people of Paris whose courage inspires all of us.

“Keeping Americans safe is our top priority and in the wake of the Paris attacks, that mission has never been more important. But in the days since those terrible attacks, there has been a deeply troubling debate about whether the U.S. should accept Syrian refugees. In the past week, we’ve heard far too many of our leaders stirring up fear and far too few talking about the facts.

“Americans want an honest and serious debate about how we can keep our country safe, but this bill, the so-called ‘American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act or “American SAFE Act,” falls far short. Instead of debating a bill that might actually strengthen and enhance our refugee resettlement screening process, we are debating a bill that appeals to the worst in us and hurts the very people who are fleeing the violence and chaos ISIS has wrought.

“The authors of H.R. 4038 boast that “this legislation would put in place the most robust national-security vetting process in history for any refugee population.”  But, the simple truth is that the United States already has in place the most rigorous screening process for refugee resettlement in the world.

“Right now, America’s refugee screening process already involves 7 different federal departments and agencies, including the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, National Counter-Terrorism Center, FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, Defense Department, U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

“And beyond that, every refugee from Syria is also subjected to an additional layer of scrutiny.  This process is so detailed that it takes, on average, about 2 years for each refugee to be fully screened and allowed to enter the U.S., under the sponsorship of a local social service agency, and be settled here. Two years.

“I would think that every member of this House would feel reassured knowing that such a process is already in place to protect our citizens and communities. We have already resettled over 1,800 Syrian refugees over the past 4 years in 130 communities across America.  In the past year, Massachusetts has resettled 62 Syrian refugees, including 24 in my hometown of Worcester.  And of the 2,174 Syrian refugees that we have resettled in the United States since 9/11, not a single one has been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds. Not one.

“I recognize that there are ways we can strengthen that process further.  The Congress could consult and work with the Administration, including Homeland Security, the State Department, the national intelligence agencies, and the FBI, to identify and discuss areas where enhancements can be made.

“But that’s not what the authors of this bill did. And it’s clear that wasn’t their intention either.  What H.R. 4038 would actually “achieve” is the creation of a so-called process that would shut down all refugee resettlement from Syria and Iraq.  It’s not meant to make things better.  It’s meant to make it completely unworkable.

“And nothing in this bill actually improves the FBI’s or any other intelligence agency’s ability to conduct a more effective screening process.  If you want to do that, give them more money for more personnel and consult with them directly about how to strengthen the existing screening process.  This bill hasn’t done that.  Right now, of the more than 1,800 Syrian refugees resettled in the United States since 2012, half are children, a quarter are adults over the age of 60, and none have been involved in anything remotely tied to terrorism or violent activity.   

“America is at a critical crossroads. It’s moments like this that define who we are as a nation.  This bill – along with the deeply-troubling rhetoric that surrounds it – would only perpetuate the politics of fear and intolerance. Americans are better than that and now more than ever, we must stay true to our values. Our enemies want to divide us. We must remain strong and united in the face of this evil. We must not abandon the clear-eyed compassion that has made America the shining city on a hill for more than two centuries, giving hope to so many generations before us, in search of a better life for themselves and their children.

“In July, I traveled to Gaziantep, Turkey near the Syrian border with a Congressional Delegation led by Senator Tim Kaine. While we were there, we heard directly from government leaders and local NGOs and charities on the front lines helping the countless Syrian refugees who have lost their homes and many of their friends and family. They are desperate to escape the violence and are part of the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. We cannot shirk from this moment when strong American leadership is needed.

“One of the most important reminders of the legacy we must live up to is the Statue of Liberty. For more than a hundred years, it has stood as an enduring symbol of America’s promise of a better life for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  We cannot turn our backs on the values at the heart of our identity as Americans. To do this would cede a victory to the terrorists.

“Yet the fear, anger, prejudice and isolationism that are driving the current debate on Syrian refugees remind me of some of the darkest and ugliest chapters of modern American history.  Many Americans – some in this chamber – still remember the moment in our nation’s history when we turned away ships filled with Jewish refugees desperate to escape Nazi Germany and imprisoned our fellow citizens of Japanese heritage in internment camps. Do we really want to return to these kinds of destructive and hateful policies? Is that really who we are today?

“I am so proud of America’s leadership in providing $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in the region, more than any other country.  I am also proud that U.S. refugee resettlement places a priority on accepting widows with children and highly vulnerable individuals, especially the elderly and the infirm.

“H.R. 4038 would shut down our resettlement program altogether.  That’s what it wants to do, and that’s what it intends to do. 

“The refugees eligible for resettlement in the U.S. are not the refugees in Europe.  The refugees coming into the U.S. through our resettlement program have been living in refugee camps for months, often years, under unimaginably harsh conditions.

“A woman and her 3-year-old little girl whose home in Syria was reduced to rubble by barrel bombs, and whose husband has been killed, she will be denied the opportunity to go through the rigorous screening process to find a new home in America.

“An elderly woman who has lost everything and is barely alive now in the refugee camps, will be denied a home in America, even if she has some distant relatives already in the United States.

“Where is our humanity?  None of the Syrian refugees who have already made it through our screening process and been resettled in the United States fits the description of the terrorist I heard described over and over again last night in the Rules Committee.  Those ugly distortions of the people we are resettling only emphasize how out of touch with reality this debate has gotten.

“If we really want to help make America more safe and more secure in the wake of the Paris attacks, then we should put more money in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for the FBI, for DHS and for our local law enforcement agencies so they can continue focusing on criminal and home-grown, as well as possible foreign, individuals and networks that might engage in violence against our citizens.

“And while we’re at it, we should also increase the funding for the State Department, HHS, the UNHCR and the NGOs who provide humanitarian aid abroad and resettlement support to refugee families here in America.

“But let’s stop wasting our time with a bill that’s going nowhere and fails to offer the serious approach we need to keep America safe and address this crisis.”

###