Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Q&A: Syrian Refugees

Nov 20, 2015

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley


Q: Why is it important to take every precaution when considering whether to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in the United States? 

A:  Americans have a generous, compassionate spirit that is reflected in service and philanthropy, such as toy and clothing drives, food pantries and homeless shelters in communities across the country. This shared sense of humanity also is reflected by U.S. asylum policies. The United States has a long history of extending and expanding resettlement programs for those seeking sanctuary from religious persecution, ethnic cleansing and humanitarian crises. Every year, for the past few years, the United States has offered safe haven for 70,000 refugees from around the world. Iowa, in particular, has a remarkable legacy that goes back to Governor Ray’s starting a resettlement program in 1975 for thousands of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia. Since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, refugees seeking asylum in the United States must meet a legal standard of “well-founded fear of persecution” to qualify for resettlement. The Obama administration is misplacing priorities by insisting on expanding Syrian refugee resettlement, especially considering a Syrian passport was reportedly found near the body of one of the Paris attackers. 

America mourns for those who lost their lives and their loved ones in the brutal massacre in Paris. America still heals from the tremendous sorrow and loss inflicted by the 9/11 terror attacks. Like America, the City of Light will find its way out of the darkness. We stand in solidarity with our friends and allies around the world. Together we must work to extinguish violent extremism that breeds terrorism and threatens life as we know it. That is why we cannot allow America’s welcome mat to be turned into a door mat for radicalized Islamic extremists who are hard-wired to kill innocent people and destroy our way of life. Unless and until the United States can figure out a stringent screening process to prevent terrorists from masquerading as refugees to infiltrate our neighborhoods and communities, President Obama needs to listen to the concerns voiced by more than half the nation’s governors, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on both sides of Capitol Hill and the American people from across the entire country. So far, it doesn’t appear the president is listening. That’s why I am working to put at least a temporary halt on the implementation of the president’s plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into this country until our intelligence and national security agencies can certify the vetting process will keep out terrorists. Don’t forget, the U.S. paused our refugee admissions program after 9/11 to re-evaluate and upgrade security processes. At this moment, we need reasonable responses to address widespread uncertainty, not rash disregard of national security.
 

Q: How does this differ from the “boat people” resettlement four decades ago?

A: America’s humanitarian principles haven’t changed. The times have changed. Remember, Iowa was the first state to open a government resettlement agency when it welcomed the Tai Dam into our communities and took in thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia. Over the years, Iowa has resettled other refugees facing persecution in their home countries, including Bosnia, Sudan and Burma. Refugee resettlements in Iowa faced barriers back then and face challenges still today. There’s no question that considerable language and cultural barriers significantly impact transitions for refugees into local communities, in neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Resettlement strains social services and takes broad, coordinated efforts from a wide variety of government agencies, faith-based organizations and volunteers to work.

Notwithstanding the challenges with transportation and housing and the burdens on local schools, hospitals and other public services, the refugee resettlement in America should not be an avenue for terrorists to sneak in and do us harm. Like it or not, the reality of the 21st century differs significantly from just a generation ago. Today we are facing a reign of terror that recruits and radicalizes Islamic extremists to inflict violence and spread fear across civilized society. The atrocities of the 20th century were rooted in tyrannical government regimes, such as Nazism and Communism, led by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot, who oppressed freedom and murdered millions of innocent people. Today, extremists are trying to poison peace and prosperity by orchestrating acts of terror on unsuspecting victims and venues to spread widespread fear. Today’s battlefields are vastly different than 20th century conflicts. We are talking about people who have made no bones about it. Their goal is to kill Americans. From drones, to suicide bombers and hijacked airliners, the targets and times have changed. No doubt, America’s leadership is needed to purge terror and make the world a safe place for our children and grandchildren. It will require bold, strategic plans with a broad coalition of our friends and allies that reaches across military, intelligence, diplomatic, financial and humanitarian channels. 

However, a relatively simple way for the Obama administration to put national security first is by calling a time-out on the Syrian refugee resettlement program. The president already underestimated ISIS once before, dismissing the extremist militant group as a JV team. Now look where we are seven years into his Middle East foreign policy. Considering the misguided Iran deal, the effort to relocate detainees from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. soil and calls for resettling up to 10,000 Syrian refugees, it’s no wonder Americans are questioning what else the president is miscalculating. When it comes to the safety of the American people and protecting our way of life – a way of life that generations of men and women in the Armed Forces have sacrificed life and limb to defend and uphold – the federal government has a fundamental constitutional duty to first protect national security and the sovereignty of the United States.