Dear Mr. xxx:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the United States’ acceptance of Syrian refugees. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
As you may know, the nearly five years of civil war in Syria and the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have created a major humanitarian crisis throughout the region. Millions of Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance and many are displaced inside Syria. Millions more Syrians have fled the country, predominately finding refuge in Syria’s neighbors of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. At least 710,000 refugees have reached Europe’s borders just this year, with most arriving by sea in Greece and Italy.
Over the last five years, the United States has taken in nearly 2,000 Syrian refugees. On September 20, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the United States would accept 85,000 refugees in fiscal year (FY) 2016, with at least 10,000 spots allocated for Syrians. The current refugee ceiling, which is determined yearly by the Administration, is 70,000.
To address this pressing situation, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015, on November 17, 2015. This bill would require that all refugees from Iraq or Syria receive a thorough background check from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) prior to being admitted into the United States. The FBI Director would be required to certify to the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that these individuals have received a background investigation sufficient enough to determine whether or not they are a security threat. Should the FBI, DHS, and DNI unanimously agree that an individual poses no threat to the United States, that individual may then be admitted into the United States as a refugee. Finally, the DHS would be required to report to Congress on the refugee application program on a monthly basis.
H.R. 4038 was brought to the House floor on November 19, 2015 and passed, with my support, by a vote of 289-137. H.R. 4038 was then sent to the Senate for their consideration. I recently joined many of my colleagues in signing a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) expressing our appreciation of his commitment to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to bring the SAFE Act forward through the legislative process. This letter reaffirms my belief that Congress’ main duty is to protect the citizens of the United States and this legislation is an important step in creating an effective vetting process for any incoming refugees. I recommend you contact your Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, so that they too will know your opinions on this important issue. You can find a copy of this letter and a press release by Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), who led the letter, https://zinke.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/two-refugees-arrested-terrorism-ties-rep-zinke-leads-coalition-33.
I have taken many other actions related to the Syrian Refugee situation this year. Here is a comprehensive list:
- Sent a letter to President Obama in support of Governor Abbott’s letter which stated that Texas will not accept Syrian refugees and calls for a coherent strategy to the refugee admittance process and fight against ISIL.
- Signed onto Congressman David Schweikert’s (R-Arizona) letter to President Obama asking for clarification on the admittance of additional Syrian refugees into the United States.
- Signed onto Congressman Steve Stivers’ (R-Ohio) letter to President Obama urging the immediate halt of admissions of refugees from Iraq and Syria into the United States.
- Cosponsored H.R. 3314, the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act, introduced by Congressman Brian Babin (R-Texas), to stop the admittance of refugees until the Government Accountability Office submits a report on the effect of their admittance.
- Cosponsored H.R. 3573, the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act, introduced by Congressman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), to require any increases to the amount of refugees admitted into the United States annually to be approved by Congress.
- Cosponsored H.R. 4032, the State’s Right of Refugee Refusal Act of 2015, introduced by Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas), to require states to be notified if refugees will be resettled in their state and refuse resettlement if the Office of Refugee Resettlement does not certify the refugees are not a national security threat.
- Cosponsored H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, introduced by Congressman Michael MCCaul (R-Texas), as described above.
- Cosponsored H.Con.Res. 94, introduced by Congressman Mark Meadows (R-South Carolina), expresses the sense of Congress regarding the treatment of State Governors who have made a determination on the admittance of Syrian refugees into their state.
Additionally, the recent FY2016 Omnibus package, H.R. 2029, made significant changes to the Visa Waiver and H-2B Visa programs. While the Visa Waiver program aims to increase tourism and business cooperation with the United States’ closest allies, it could be abused by potential terrorists for easy access to our nation. The Omnibus package increases the use of background checks for foreign travelers, requires more frequent reviews of the program as a whole, and prohibits individuals who have recently traveled to areas of conflict or other concern from being granted a waiver. The legislation also amends the H-2B Visa program by limiting the amount of temporary workers given such a visa to 66,000 and grants an extension to workers who had already been approved for this program within the last three years. This extension is for FY2016 only and will be given to only 8,000 eligible workers. On December 18, 2015, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2029, with my support, by a 316-113 vote. The Senate received the bill and passed it by a 73-25 vote and the president signed H.R. 2029 into law the same day.
Though the United States has a long history of helping those in need, it is important to recognize the vulnerability that is created when individuals are accepted into our nation who are from an area of the world that is active with terrorist activity and extremist training. I believe there is a balance between lending a helping hand and opening ourselves for more violent actions within our own borders. This is not the time to let our guard down, and we must ensure would-be terrorists are not permitted entry. After the attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California, I now believe more than ever that the United States must be vigilant and cautious of who is allowed to enter the country.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate having the opportunity to represent you in the U.S. House of Representatives. Please feel free to visit my website (www.house.gov/burgess) or contact me with any future concerns.
Michael C. Burgess, M.D.
Member of Congress