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Ruppersberger Issues Statement on Legislation Addressing Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

Nov 19, 2015
Floor Statement
"We must always scrutinize any foreigner who wants to enter our country for any reason"

As a lawmaker who has dedicated the last 12 years to working on issues of national security, I have spent thousands of hours in classified briefings on threats both domestic and abroad. I have traveled to dozens of terrorism hotspots around the globe, meeting with foreign dignitaries and our intelligence workers on the front lines. No one more strongly believes that our first and most important responsibility is the protection of all Americans. We must always scrutinize any foreigner who wants to enter our country for any reason.

Today, the highest level of security screening of any category traveler or immigrant belongs to refugees. Those screenings involve health checks, biometric tests to confirm identity and multiple layers of background checks along with in-person interviews by specially trained Department of Homeland Security officers.  The process involves not only DHS but the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department and the Department of Defense, each of which must certify the refugee’s status at every stage. If a refugee’s background or identity cannot be confirmed at any point, their application ends.

Syrian refugees receive an additional layer of screening, culminating in a process that usually takes 18 to 24 months before they set foot on U.S. soil, if they are even approved.

As a security expert, I know that most terrorists already live in the U.S. or they come via illegal means. But it would be far easier for terrorists to enter the country legally on a tourist visa or through the visa waiver program if they are citizens of eligible nations, including France and Belgium, which is where the Paris attackers were citizens. 

It is important to note that the legislation under consideration today in the U.S. House of Representatives applies only to Syrian and Iraqi refugees – but not refugees from other countries with known terror networks including Yemen, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

I am not convinced this bill would protect our country from foreign enemies any more than existing processes and procedures. Since 2001, only about 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States. Half are children and another quarter is over the age of 60. These refugees are victims of the same terrorists we are trying to defeat. Banning them would not only do nothing to strengthen our national security, it would fuel the anti-American sentiment that strengthens ISIS. The best way to address the refugee crisis is by removing the threat. 

For these reasons, I oppose the American SAFE Act of 2015 and support the Secure Refugee Process Act of 2015.