Statement on markup of H.R. 2826, the “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2017"
"H.R. 2826 would create a huge shift in this country's history of welcoming and protecting refugees from around the world. I think it really is an attack on refugees and the programs that serve them.
"The bill, in my view, does not enhance security or address current problems in the refugee programs. It fails to recognize that refugees are fleeing persecution, and that we have a moral and legal duty to provide them with safe haven. The bill seems to be based on the faulty premise that refugees in general pose a danger to the country, that their numbers need to be reduced, and that they need to be kept under surveillance.
"I was particularly disappointed, as the Ranking Member has stated, that this legislation comes before our Committee just one day after World Refugee Day, when all of us paused to commemorate the struggle, courage, and contributions of the many refugees that have so profoundly strengthened our nation. And I would note that in my own Congressional district that we are vastly enriched by refugees from Vietnam. The largest number of Vietnamese Americans in the United States right in the city of San Jose, who have created a tremendous business environment, wonderful children -- a very valued portion of our community.
"As Ranking Member Conyers has said, we are really now in a worldwide refugee crisis at the moment. We've not seen this many refugees World War II. Yet, this bill severely hampers the ability of our country to respond to this crisis. Among other things, it strips the President of his ability to set annual admissions levels and statutorily reduces the number of refugee admissions by more than half compared to fiscal year 2017. I think that is a mistake. I guard legislative prerogative as much as any other member of Congress, but I think the President needs to have the ability to respond to international crises and events and not be hampered by an arbitrary number in law.
"Since World War II, America has accepted millions of refugees. In the 80s under Reagan, as I mentioned, we resettled hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees, at times taking in more than 10,000 per month. In the 1990s, we accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees from the former Soviet Union. I would note that when the travel ban went into effect and people all over the country went to airports to protest, one of those who were there was the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin. When reporters asked the billionaire why he was there at one in the morning at the airport he said, "Well, I'm here because I'm a refugee." I'm glad that Sergey Brin formed Google in Mountain View instead of Moscow. It made a big difference to my constituents to have all those great paying jobs here in the United States. Refugees from around the world have become enormous contributors to the U.S. economy and part of the fabric of our country, of our society, and of my district.
"Now, at this moment of great need, I think we really should be trying to increase our capacity to resettle refugees, not decreasing it. The level this bill sets is low and I think it sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world, relinquishing our historic leadership.
"As mentioned by Mr. Conyers, it also prioritizes religious minorities for refugee resettlement as a matter of law. That is a radical departure from established law that provides protection from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. This provision would deprioritize Iraqis and Afghanis who supported U.S. armed services, or women fleeing sex enslavement or female genital mutilation by Boko Haram, or political dissidents from North Korea.
"I think another provision allowing Governors and local legislatures to deny refugee placement in their communities, is a restriction that applies to no other group of immigrants and sends the message that refugees are undesirable and unwelcome in our communities.
"I would note that although much has been said about the vetting of refugees, they are the most studied group of people who come into the United States of anyone who comes in. Some have said we can't get any information from some of these regimes, that's true. But would we really place great weight on the records provided to us by the Assad regime? I don't think so. What we do is spend 2 or 3 years examining each applicant, reconstructing their lives and the lives of the villages they grew up in to make sure their stories hold up. We also do DNA testing to make sure that the people who say they are related to each other are. The idea of keeping refugees out is just not a good one. I don't think it's consistent with our values and our history.
"I think also it's worth remembering that just over 75 years ago, a ship called the St. Louis, carrying nearly 1,000 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, sailed so close to the United States the passengers could see the lights of Miami. But rather than welcome those refugees, America turned them away. Many of those Jewish refugees perished, they were killed by the Nazis when they were forcibly returned to Europe."That marked a change in US refugee policy and in the world's refugee policy. It's a mistake to upend the principles that have guided us since that time, as this bill does, and I hope that we will not adopt it."