Our number one priority is protecting the United States and the American people from terrorist attacks. In the strongest possible terms, I condemn the cowardly attacks in Paris and send my deepest sympathies to the victims. As we fight terrorism, we must stay true to the values enshrined in our Constitution, remember that we are a nation of immigrants, and not let terrorist groups define or change who we are. The attacks in Paris highlight the continued challenge we face in the fight against terrorist networks.
We must be very clear about what our current standards for refugees are. The United States thoroughly vets all refugees. For most refugee applicants, the process takes between 18-24 months. Applicants for refugee status are held to the highest level of security screening through which we evaluate travelers or immigrants to the United States. If as a result of the security process, U.S. security agencies cannot verify details of a potential refugee’s story, that individual cannot enter the United States.
Of the millions of law-abiding Syrian refugees, less than 1,800 have been resettled in the United States. Refugees are subjected to a stringent, in-depth interagency vetting process that includes health checks, verifications of biometric information to confirm identity, and multiple layers of biographical and background checks, along with in-person interviews by U.S. officials. Members of this interagency team includes the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Defense. These checks happen before an application is approved and long before a refugee would be able to enter the United States.
We cannot let fear cloud our judgement, drive policy or destroy the fabric of what America stands for. We need to be strong and smart to fight terrorism. Excluding all Muslim refugees feeds the anti-American narrative and empowers ISIS to wrongly paint the American people as anti-Islamic. If we turn our backs on refugees, then we risk making ISIS stronger.
The Republican Syrian Refugee bill that will be debated on the House floor would immediately shut down resettlement of refugees from the Syria and Iraq region. This rash reaction ignores the fact that all of the Paris attackers identified thus far are either French or Belgian and that many terrorist threats are homegrown. It is wrong to deny asylum to refugees on the basis of inaccurate assumptions, fear and prejudice.
We must continue to stand strong as an international community. As we face and address terrorist threats, we need to remember the phrase on the Great Seal of the United States: “E Pluribus Unum”—out of many, one. This means refugees from Syria and Iraq who are fleeing terrible conditions and persecution too. As we move forward, let us unite to use the tools at our disposal - diplomatic, military, intelligence, and development - to defeat extremism and the terrorism it breeds.