We must address Syrian refugee crisis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

On Nov. 13, humanity paused as we learned of a string of terror attacks in Paris, France. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed over 125 innocent people. These men and women were simply heading to a sporting event, enjoying dinner at an outdoor café or watching a concert. Common activities we all take part in.

One of the most alarming facts from the Paris terror attacks was the fact that one of the attackers entered Europe through the refugee process. This follows up on the Islamic State’s stated goal of embedding terrorists in the refugee process. This is especially concerning because President Barack Obama recently announced that the United States would be taking in over 10,000 Syrian refugees.

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As soon as I heard the President’s announcement earlier this year, I immediately sought more information about the screening process Syrian refugees must undergo before entering the United States. I sent a letter to the Department of State requesting additional information. I also took part in a classified briefing to learn more about the vetting process and what sources our intelligence agencies use to make determinations about allowing refugees into the United States.

After receiving this information, it became clear that we lack the ability to properly screen Syrian refugees. The issue is not that the screening process is not thorough enough, but instead we simply lack the information needed to screen these individuals. The screening system depends on the United States having certain information that we can only get from people and assets on the ground in the home country. We do not have those resources in Syria.

FBI Director James Comey testified last month about the difficulty with screening Syrian refugees. He noted that “if we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our data.” He ultimately concluded that he could not give “an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated” with allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.

I want to be very clear: I support the decades-old refugee program and believe it has always been an important part of our nation. The reality is that this particular population has such a heightened threat associated with it that we must block Syrian refugees at this point in time.

Last Monday, I sent a letter to President Obama demanding he stop the Syrian refugee resettlement program. Despite my letter and an outpouring of opposition from the American people, the President made clear that he would move forward with allowing Syrian refugees into our country.

That’s why I introduced a bill last week that would defund the Syrian refugee resettlement program altogether. I believe using the “power of the purse” gives us the best chance to stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

Late last week, the house voted on a bill that would essentially halt the Syrian refugee program for at least two years. President Obama threatened to veto the bill, but the house responded by approving the bill by a veto proof margin.

This bill is just the first of many actions by the house of representatives to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. I am committed to doing everything in my power to stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

Ultimately, the United States is at war, whether President Obama wants to acknowledge it or not. We are at war with the Islamic State and their radical Islamic ideology. In times of war, difficult decisions have to be made and serious precautions must be taken. That is the case when it comes to allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.