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What You Need to Know About the American SAFE Act

Jan 19, 2016

Blog Post

Britanny Vanderhoof, HIAS Policy Counsel

A young Syrian refugee at the Zaatari camp in Jordan, north east of the Jordanian capital Amman. September 19, 2015.

(KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 4.6 million Syrian refugees have fled to the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Limited job and education opportunities in these countries have driven many families to attempt the dangerous journey to Europe. President Obama has committed to resettling 85,000 refugees this year, including 10,000 Syrian refugees, who will have the opportunity to restart their lives in safety. However, some U.S. leaders would rather shut down America’s longstanding tradition of refugee resettlement entirely.

In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015, otherwise known as the American SAFE Act or H.R. 4038. This week, the Senate will consider this legislation.

While proponents of this bill claim that it would make us safer, in reality it only creates an additional, unnecessarily burdensome bureaucratic review process that could take years to implement and would effectively shut down refugee resettlement. It would require individual sign-off from the heads of three different federal agencies for each individual refugee before arrival in the U.S. This process (which is not clearly defined in the legislation) would add months if not years to the current security screening process for refugees, which already takes between 18 and 24 months.

To put it simply, the existing screening process is already the most robust in the world. Refugees already undergo numerous security and medical clearances, which would inevitably expire during this new “certification” process, leaving refugees in an endless loop of security clearances and bureaucratic hurdles that might never lead to safety.

Before they ever step foot on American soil, all refugees undergo rigorous security screenings including multiple biographic and identity investigations, biometric checks, in-person interviews by Homeland Security officers, medical screenings, and more. Each refugee is hand-selected for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which has become a critical aspect of our country’s foreign policy and a hallmark of global humanitarian values.

Another significant concern is that this legislation discriminates against refugees from Syria and Iraq, who currently account for about 20% of the world’s refugee population. The international community is still grappling with the scope of the global refugee crisis -- this is no time for the United States to employ differential treatment on the basis of nationality. We should instead focus on helping the most vulnerable refugee families and allowing them to start their lives in safety. In return, these refugees will contribute to American society and enrich our communities, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have before them.

The American SAFE Act would not make Americans more safe. Instead, it would waste our tax dollars and send a dangerous message to the rest of the world that the United States will not be a leader in protecting the victims of persecution and violence in Syria and Iraq. Please join us in urging U.S. Senators to oppose this legislation.