WASHINGTON – Earlier today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, voted against a bill that would effectively stop the resettlement of fully-vetted refugee women, children and families from Syria and Iraq in the United States.
Sen. Carper spoke on the floor about his vote and the need to focus on legislation that would address the greater threat to our homeland – homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization. His speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:
“Mr. President, the terrorist attacks we’ve seen over the last few months, including those in Paris and San Bernardino, California, have made it all too clear that terrorists’ threats to Americans and our allies are real.
“I believe the best way to combat the threat of ISIS across the globe is to continue to degrade and destroy their forces overseas and show the world that they are not as powerful as they claim to be. Our success will not only rob them of their safe haven, but also undercut their recruitment narrative that “ISIS is on the rise.”
“But, in addition to destroying ISIS overseas, we must also focus on defeating the threat of ISIS here at home.
“I realize that many Americans and many of my colleagues are concerned about terrorists traveling to our borders as refugees from Syria. As many of my colleagues might recall, late last year, we debated the question regarding the resettlement of four million Syrian refugees, and whether we should continue to open our doors to a small fraction of them. We debated it here on the Senate Floor and in our Committees, including the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where I serve as the Ranking Member.
“During this debate, I was reminded of Pope Francis’ historic and moving address to a joint session of Congress this past September. During his remarks, he reminded us of the Golden Rule – to treat other people the way we want to be treated. He also invoked Matthew 25, which asks, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you?”
“We have a moral imperative to provide for the least of these. But, at the same time, we have a moral imperative to protect Americans from extremists who seek to come to the United States to cause us harm.
“As we learned, to address this tension, our nation has rigorous screening procedures in place for all refugees, as well as enhanced screening for refugees from Syria —a process that takes an average of two years to complete. And for those of Syrian descent, the process could be even longer. That’s a long time to wait for a terrorist if they were going to try to use the refugee program to access the United States.
“If I were a terrorist trying to enter the United States, the last thing I would ever do is risk detection by undergoing two years of rigorous screening by trained counterterrorism officials.
“While I understand my colleagues’ concerns, the refugee bill that we dealt with today would do little to address our nation’s security needs. And that’s why many of my colleagues joined me in opposing this bill.
“The bill would require the head of top national security agencies to personally “certify” that each refugee from Syria and Iraq poses no security threat before admission to the United States.
“If this bill had passed, it would have served as a back door way to shut off the refugee program by requiring our national security leaders to promise something they would never promise. As currently drafted, this bill would require these three national security leaders to guarantee that the refugee will never become a security threat. That is not how these leaders or their organization evaluate security threats. They don’t have a crystal ball; they can’t predict the future.
“Simply put, the SAFE Act would effectively stop the resettlement of fully-vetted refugee women, children and families from Syria and Iraq and weaken our national security.
“Again, that’s why I believe we must focus our attention on threats that pose a greater risk to our homeland.
“Democrats put forward a series of commonsense solutions that would strengthen our security and help protect us against ISIS. Instead of vilifying refugees, this bill imposes tough new sanctions on financial institutions if they knowingly facilitate financial transactions with ISIS. This bill closes loopholes that would let terrorists legally buy guns. This bill improves intelligence sharing with our allies who join us in the fight against ISIS.
“This bill also includes several provisions to better protect the homeland. For example, the bill strengthens the security of our airports. The bill provides better training for law enforcement to respond to active shooter incidents. The bill makes several improvements to security of low-level radiological material so that this potentially dangerous material does not fall in the hands of terrorists.
“One particular area that I want to focus on is countering violent extremism.
“As the tragedy in California underscores, one of the greatest threats we face is homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization. That’s why the Democratic package includes language from a bill that I introduced that would strengthen the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to counter violent extremism here in the United States.
“The bill authorizes a new office charged with helping communities stop their young people from being recruited by ISIS. The bill would also create a grant program that will help DHS connect with nonprofits, local officials, religious leaders and youth groups to work together to counter the narratives proffered by terrorist groups like ISIS.
“Mr. President, if we really want to be doing all that we can to better secure our nation, the Democratic package is the bill we should be debating.”