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Home / Press Release / Congress Urged to Reject Proposals to Severely Limit or Block U.S. Protection of Syrian Refugees
November 18, 2015

Congress Urged to Reject Proposals to Severely Limit or Block U.S. Protection of Syrian Refugees

New York City – Human Rights First today urged Congress to reject proposals to halt or pause U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees, including the American Safe Act, a bill that would immediately shut down the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq and severely handicap the future ability of the United States to provide protection to vulnerable refugees fleeing horrific violence in the Middle East. The organization 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. 

“These proposals send exactly the wrong the message to the world and to U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe. America should be standing up for the victims of terrorism and repression, not abandoning its principles by slamming the door on rigorously vetted refugee families, and children. This is a defining moment for U.S. political leaders and an opportunity to demonstrate that America will not abandon its ideals,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. "Jordan, Turkey, and U.S. allies in Europe need the United States to lead global efforts to resettle refugees and to improve the pace and scale of U.S. resettlement efforts. Practically speaking, pausing a program that is already moving at a snail’s pace would be devastating. It would also exacerbate the crisis in Europe by signaling that the United States is pulling back on its already minimal resettlement efforts, prompting more refugees to try to reach Europe given the lack of timely and orderly routes to refuge. The American Safe Act would also prolong the already lengthy waits facing Iraqi refugees, including those who are at risk due to their work with the U.S. government or U.S. organizations and media.”   

Human Rights First notes that the American Safe Act and other proposals, if passed, would effectively shut down the resettlement of refugee families from the Syria and Iraq region, at least for months or years. The bill would create an unworkable “certification” requirement that would make it nearly impossible to resettle any refugee families from the region given the level of bureaucratic coordination and time this process would require from very high level officials. The American Safe Act would require the secretary of homeland security, the FBI director, and the director of national intelligence to “certify” to a host of Congressional committees that refugee applicants from Syria and Iraq are 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. The organization also notes that the bill would take years to implement while processes are created and standards are determined. These delays would decimate the U.S. resettlement process in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere.   

The current system of background and security checks for Syrian refugees being resettled to the United States is the most rigorous vetting process applied to any people coming to the United States. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees first registers refugees, interviews them, takes biometric data and background information. These refugees—overwhelmingly women and children—have been living in Jordan, Turkey or other frontline refugee-hosting countries for years, struggling to survive. The U.S. government then conducts its own extremely rigorous screening process, including health checks, repeated biometric checks, several layers of biographical and background screening, and interview conducted abroad by specially-trained Department of Homeland Security officers. Multiple agencies are involved, including the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department, DHS, the National Counterterrorism Center, Department of Defense, and U.S. intelligence agencies. DHS has added an additional country-specific layer of enhanced review for Syrian refugee applications, which includes extra screening for national security risks.  

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 approximately 4 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.

“By failing to lead a global effort to resettle a meaningful number of Syrian refugees, the United States would undermine its own national security objectives. As national security experts have noted, the United States has a strong interest in maintaining the stability of key U.S. allies like Jordan and making clear to the world, to its allies, and to the perpetrators of terrorism and repression, that the United States will stand up for its ideals and protect victims of persecution regardless of their nationality or religion,” added Acer.         

For more information or to speak with Acer contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.