Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today praised the Senate for voting against a motion to proceed on the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (H.R. 4038), a bill that would immediately shut down the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq and severely handicap the United States’ future ability to protect vulnerable refugees fleeing horrific violence in the Middle East. The motion was defeated by a vote of 55-43; 60 votes were required for the motion to pass.
“We applaud the Senate for standing up for vulnerable families who are victims of terrorism and repression by defeating the American SAFE Act,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer, who just returned from a fact finding trip the the Syrian border region. “Protecting the persecuted is a fundamental American ideal and one that should be strongly upheld as the world faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The United States should continue to lead by example and increase its commitment to resettle more of the most vulnerable Syrian refugee families, and increase humanitarian aid and support to key U.S. allies such as Jordan, who continue to host the majority of the more than 4 million Syrians who have fled horrific violence in search of safety.”
The American SAFE Act would have effectively shut down the resettlement of refugee families from Syria and Iraq, possibly for years, by creating an unworkable certification requirement. The bill would have required the secretary of homeland security, the FBI director, and the director of national intelligence to “certify” to a host of Congressional committees that each individual already fully vetted refugee applicant from Syria and Iraq is not a security threat without providing any guidelines for how this process will take place, how certification will be different from current background checks, or how these two processes will interact.
Human Rights First notes that under the current system, Syrian refugees are more closely vetted than any other group allowed entrance to the United States and undergo a multi-step series of background checks and security screenings conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Defense (DOD), and U.S. intelligence agencies before ever being allowed entrance into the country.
The bill has drawn scrutiny from some of the nation’s most respected and experienced national security experts, who say that it is out of step with American ideals and could harm national security.
The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. Frontline states and key U.S. allies including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan continue to host the majority of the over 4 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.