By Congresswoman Julia Brownley
Originally published in the Ventura County Star
Re: The Star’s Nov. 22 editorial, “Don’t let fear erode America’s historic values”:
The editorial suggested I was dismissive of a vote I took to certify the screening of Syrian refugees hoping to settle in the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have been a strong advocate for Syrians displaced by the civil war. As recently as Nov. 5, I joined my colleague Adam Schiff and other members of Congress to call on President Obama to expedite the approval of visas allocated for Syrians who have passed initial screenings, and I voiced strong support of the president’s plan to increase the number of Syrian refugees coming into the country to 10,000.
President Obama has been very vocal about the need to help the Syrian people, but he has also been personally critical of those who have resisted allowing more refugees to enter the country.
But the truth is, 72 percent of Americans oppose allowing more Syrian refugees into the country under the current system, based on recent polls. If the goal is to help more refugees, which I believe it should be, then it is impractical to think that can be accomplished by ignoring almost three-quarters of the American people.
From recent events in Mali, Paris and Beirut, to continuing instability in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the repeated threats from ISIS and al-Qaida to do harm to the American people, one can hardly blame Americans for being nervous.
The only way to deliver results, versus rhetoric, must be to strengthen security so that the American people are more comfortable supporting an expanded program. Strengthening security without increasing the number of refugees admitted through the program would be wrong. But doing nothing to address these fears would result in the Syrian refugee program failing entirely.
In fact, Democrats proposed their own bill to strengthen security screening for Syrian refugees. The bill that Republicans brought forward is similar, and simply requires the heads of three federal agencies that perform security checks — the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the director of National Intelligence — to certify that each applicant they approve is not a threat to national security.
It seems reasonable to me to ask the agencies in charge of the program to sign off on the steps they are already taking. The additional certification would address the concerns of many Americans, which would help the program garner more support — a key ingredient, in my mind, to achieve success.
Racist, anti-Muslim comments made by some on the right have no place in our political discourse and are deeply offensive and un-American. We are a country built by immigrants, and we must stay true to our values when refugees from war-torn countries seek the opportunity to build a better life in the United States.
But the fears of three-quarters of the American people should also not be ascribed to a darker motive. This is a complex issue, and this country does not move forward when either side polarizes intent or motive.
I want my constituents and all Americans to feel safe and secure, and for our nation to stay true to its values. I believe both are possible.