“When we allow refugees into this country, we must be guided by one single principle,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday, as the chamber voted to make life even more terrifying for Syrian refugees fleeing Islamic State oppression. “If you are a terrorist or a threat to our country, you are not getting in.”
Yes, we all share the “principle” that terrorists are unwelcome. But principle had little to do with the 289-137 House vote on the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which would radically tighten the refugees’ already stringent vetting process.
That was political theater.
From the get-go, HR 4038 pandered to the worst instincts of a nation struggling not to let fear overwhelm its most fundamental values. Screening for Syrians already is stricter than for any other group of refugees, and already involves the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
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The vast majority of the more than 2,000 Syrian refugees admitted since 2011 are children and women. No matter. On top of all that, the bill would require that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the director of the FBI and the director of national intelligence personally vouch for each and every Syrian or Iraqi applicant admitted.
Eight California Democrats crossed the aisle, including Reps. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove and Jim Costa of Fresno.
The bill does little or nothing to make the nation safer. Practically, it would make vetting so cumbersome that few, if any, Syrians would get in.
The bill got near-unanimous support from House Republicans, including those in California, which has some of the nation’s largest Syrian immigrant communities.
And though the White House made it clear that it would undermine the nation’s ability to fight the security threat in the Syrian region, nearly 50 Democrats crossed party lines to give the measure a veto-proof margin.
Eight California Democrats crossed the aisle, including Reps. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove and Jim Costa of Fresno. Yes, some, like Bera and Garamendi, sit on committees that deal with national security issues. But what all had in common was that they are running in swing districts, where Republican challengers could twist a pro-refugee vote against them.
Fear is powerful. Americans learned that to their shame before World War II, when many sought to bar Jews fleeing Nazi Germany as the nation was struggling with the Great Depression. And McCarthy was stating the obvious in coming out firmly against terrorists.
But if extremists wanted to reprise Paris here, they wouldn’t need to wait for two years in some refugee line. They could simply wait a few weeks for a temporary visa. Or, if they held European passports like the Paris attackers, they could walk into the U.S., visa-free, if their names weren’t on a terrorism watch list.
And once here, they could easily buy guns in many states, even if they were suspected of terrorism. Yep, that’s legal. Because, you see, this Congress is all about principle.