Second District Congressman Rick Larsen issued the following statement Thursday about accepting refugees from Syria who are fleeing violence and persecution. In voting against H.R. 4038, a bill that effectively halts Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., Larsen reiterated that keeping the American people safe is his top priority, and stated that denying refuge to Syrians plays into ISIL’s hands while betraying American values.
“In the aftermath of the terrible ISIL-driven attacks in Paris, some have called on the United States to shut down any effort to admit Syrian refugees. I understand the fear that people feel, and I share their concern for our national security. We must take smart, decisive action to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil.
“The U.S. should continue to show its strength by taking the fight to ISIL. Through airstrikes and support for forces in the region, including the Iraqi military and the Kurds, we have shrunk the territory ISIL has held by 20 percent to 25 percent. We have done this through working with an international coalition to conduct airstrikes against ISIL leadership, convoys and logistics operations, as well as through coordinated sharing of intelligence and other information about ISIL’s membership and activities.
“But military action only goes so far, and we should also be worried about giving ISIL the chance to say ‘I told you so.’ By shutting out Syrian refugees, ISIL can claim that Muslims are not welcome in the United States. Handing ISIL a propaganda victory like this gives them another recruiting tool, creating a serious national security concern. Fear is an understandable response to terror and violence. I hear that concern, and I am addressing it by voting against a bill that plays into ISIL’s hands.
“The process a refugee must go through to enter our country is the most stringent for any traveler seeking to cross our borders. Refugees must go through rigorous security screenings that involve the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Only after clearing all of these departments will refugees be allowed to come to our country. Because it is so thorough, this process usually takes 18 to 24 months. And in contrast to European nations, our vetting process must be complete before a refugee can travel here.
“The Statue of Liberty is more than a tourist attraction. The icon is an important symbol of American power, and the words on the statue beckoning the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses convey what is exceptional about our country. We can live up to those words while also addressing legitimate security concerns.
“Yes, we should be concerned about the jihadist extremism that ISIL promotes, and we should take strong military action to attack it and help our allies with intelligence and other tools. We should take equally strong action to undermine ISIL’s terror by living up to American values and helping those fleeing the violence that ISIL and Syria’s government have created. We have the knowledge and vetting processes in place to welcome people who have lost their homes and are seeking the same things we all want: hope, dignity and opportunity for our families,” Larsen said.
Since 2011, about 2,070 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States. A quarter of these refugees are adults over 60, and half are children.
Many religious groups have maintained their support for bringing Syrian refugees to the U.S., including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, Methodist leaders and Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.