By: Yolanda Rondon, ADC Staff Attorney
It is easy for us to uphold human rights in times of peace and point the finger at other nations. But the trust test of our nation’s character is upholding and defending human rights in times of chaos and fear, and that is what is commendable. It is hypocrisy to demand and encourage other countries to play their part in accepting refugees, especially countries on the front lines, but we will not. It is hypocrisy to shut our doors to women, children, the elderly and torture victims, and watch them die when we know we can help save them. It is hypocrisy to call and demand for other nations to respect human rights and uphold human rights law, when we give up on humanity. Let’s also be cognizant of the fact that the U.S. geopolitical goals and needs in the Arab region beyond the Syrian refugee crisis will be impacted. Now is not the time to abandon our respect and protection of civil liberties and human rights, but to reaffirm them.
There is a lot of talk in the halls of Congress and by elected officials that we must sacrifice our values for security because of the terrorist attacks in Paris. These actions are just attempts to play on fear of xenophobia, anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia. Let’s be clear, 1) the refugees with pending applications to the United States had nothing to do with the Paris; 2) the U.S. is not France and the U.S. has a extensive rigorous security vetting security system, and the U.S. is in an entirely different position regarding security than Europe overall; as the U.S. selects refugees that are living outside of Syria, mainly women, children, and torture victims living inside UN refugee camps, whom have undergone the United Nations Refugee Agency vetting process, and undergone the multiple rigorous security checks by all our federal immigration and intelligence agencies prior to entry into the U.S. (Europe is forced largely due to geographical location to process refugees after entry and must process as asylum seekers; 3) zero (0) Syrian refugees that have resettled in the U.S. have been arrested or removed on terrorism charges; and 4) Syrian refugees are fleeing precisely the same terrorism and violent extremism that was inflicted in Paris (many have lived under a state of terrorism, witnessed and/or suffered persecution based on their identity). Even French President Francois Hollande in the wake of the Paris attacks has continued to welcome refugees because of a national duty to humanity, to ensure safety for refugees. French President Hollande stated, “Some have wanted to link the influx of refugees to Friday’s acts of terror.” But “30,000 refugees will be welcomed in the next two years.”
We must not sacrifice our American values of being a safe haven for victims, defending human rights, prohibiting discrimination, and welcoming immigrants and embracing diversity. We must also acknowledge that the SAFE Act H.R. 4083 is actually counterproductive to an already robust security vetting system. H.R. 4083 specifically signals out refugees coming from Syria or Iraq and requires unanimous certification by the Secretary of DHS, the Director of the FBI, and the Direction of National Intelligence to congressional committees that the refugee accepted by the federal agencies are not a threat to the security of the U.S. This is clearly an attempt by Congressional members to add additional burdens to elongate, and prevent refugee resettlement, and to create more bureaucratic loopholes and hurdles. As the requested federal intelligence and government agencies are already required to and enforce through their respective strict policies and procedures multiple cross-security checks to verify and assess the national security risk of each refugee. In addition, U.S. immigration law bars entry from the U.S. for any person “who is believed to be seeking to enter the U.S. to engage in unlawful activity” and “people who have been associated with a terrorist organization and intend to engage in activities in the U.S. that could endanger the welfare, safety, or security of the U.S.
It is merely a congressional attempt to contradict and/or undermine the purpose and existence of the refugee program including but not limited to H.R. 4083 and the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act of 2015, H.R. 3573, to save human lives. These legislative measure effectively shut down the refugee program, and engage in national origin and religious profiling of refugee applications. Both H.R. 4083 and H.R. 3573 are in direct violation and/or contrary to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees policy of non-discrimination, non-penalization, and non-refoulement. The aforementioned recognized under customary international law, and the Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(42) reinforce the fundamental principle that refugee status be applied without discrimination. Refugee status is granted and/or extended to provide temporary protection in the U.S. for all persons subjected to persecution or in fear of persecution based on a protected characteristic including religion and national origin. The United States cannot pick and choose based upon a person’s race, national origin, or religion whether to grant refugee status. How can we single out and treat people differently who are seeking protection for their very lives for the exact same reason? All Syrian and Iraqi refugee lives must be protected and are worth saving, not only Syrian Christians and Iraqi Christians.
Section 5 of H.R. 3573 goes further and impermissibly authorize selective discrimination on the basis of religion, by providing that refugees from religious minority groups are given preferential treatment and are prioritized for entry. Not only is this impermissible but refugee eligibility on the basis of persecution because of one’s religion is already provided for and identified as a protected characteristic. This demonstrates that the underlying intention of this provision and the legislation overall is to allow only for Christian refugees to be granted entrance into the U.S., which is largely pushed by Islamophobia and improper correlation of Muslims with terrorism, and that only Christians are being persecuted. All people, Muslims and Christians alike, have been persecuted and tortured, and subject to indiscriminate killings in the Syrian war.
Politicians and governmental officials in the United States have given into fear mongering and excusing their behavior as “acting on behalf of their constituents” and the national security card touting FBI. But they fail to understand that they were elected to stand up in times of adversity and unpopular opinion to defend what is right (Polling on this will change over time, and they do not want to be on the wrong side of history) and their decisions not only affect their constituents but all U.S. citizens. Namely, elected officials have a responsibility to reject such bigotry and fear mongering as Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities have all experienced backlash after terrorist attacks and subjected to bigotry, harassment, and hate crimes. It is such a shame, that people who come to the U.S. escaping persecution based on their identity, will still have to continue to endure such persecution and hatred.
Frankly, it is utterly disturbing that so much deference is given to the FBI touting of the “national security” card, when we know from their actions and policy, that the FBI has a practice of not being forthcoming with information and intentionally misrepresenting security situations to further their own agenda. An history of racial and religious profiling in our communities. Let’s also not forget about the FBI’s ongoing actions that have perpetuated the mass spread of anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia, and fear through its Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program.
When we slam the door on refugees, we turn our back on America’s founding principles of freedom and liberty for all, we turn our back on humanity. “National security” keeps chipping away at our inalienable fundamental rights, eventually we may not have any rights left to protect, feeding right into the hands of terrorists and violent extremists.
 Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act of 2015, H.R. 3573.The Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act of 2015, H.R. 3573 if enacted would amend the INA to limit and effectively prohibit the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. where there is an unwillingness or inability to work together. The language of H.R. 3573 prohibits the acceptance of refugees approved through the federal agencies screening process unless a joint resolution is enacted into law by Congress that sets the number of refugees for the fiscal year. This is seriously troubling for several reasons: 1) the U.S. needs the flexibility to be able to sufficiently respond to refugee crisis and humanitarian needs as they fluctuate and/or an unanticipated armed conflict, war, genocide and/or environmental disaster occurs, and not be confined to a specific number; and 2) where there is not bipartisanship, politics will determine whether or not we can provide a safe haven to refugees fleeing for their lives, rather than capacity and feasibility.
 When asked in a 1938 Gallup poll for their opinion on allowing Jewish refugees into the United States, nearly 70% of Americans responded “With conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out.” In 1939 we refused landing the St. Louis, a ship carrying 900+ Jews, a quarter of whom were killed in the Holocaust when returned to Europe. When we regrettably forced thousands of Japanese Americans into internment camps following Pearl Harbor because of their national origin. The country and government agencies shouted yes in the name of national security, and we said never again. See Is Korematsu Really Dead?