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Syrian refugees: Security, compassion, and fighting this problem at the source

Syrian refugees: Security, compassion, and fighting this problem at the source

Washington, DC, November 23, 2015

By John Ratcliffe
Special to the Herald Democrat

The American people are rightfully afraid of what they see happening each night on their televisions. Paris is in a state of chaos in the wake of an ISIS-led attack that left hundreds dead and injured. The stakes are high, and the world is looking for American leadership.

As a former U.S. Attorney and terrorism prosecutor, I’ve worked to combat the devastating force of terrorism firsthand – putting individuals who were funneling money to terrorist groups in federal prison. These experiences taught me that we can never be too vigilant in defending the safety of our homeland, and I share my constituents’ concerns that the Administration’s Syrian refugee policy has serious vulnerabilities.

I’ve been ardent in expressing my concerns about the inability of this refugee program to adequately verify the identity and intent of these individuals. High-ranking national security officials, including some in the Obama Administration, have acknowledged the system’s vulnerabilities. Just this past month, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson admitted, “We know that organizations such as ISIL might like to try to exploit this program.”

Sharing these sentiments, FBI Director James B. Comey said, “There is risk associated with bringing somebody in from the outside, but especially from a conflict zone like [Syria]. My concern there is that there are certain gaps I don’t want to talk about publicly in the data available to us.”

The existence of these gaps is why I publicly called for an immediate suspension of the Syrian refugee program and voted last week in favor of the American SAFE Act, which passed the House by a veto-proof, bipartisan majority. This legislation would push pause on our Syrian refugee resettlement program and initiate a massive overhaul of our tools and processes for vetting such refugees. I supported this bill not because I believe that all those seeking refugee status are radical Islamist terrorists, but because it has become abundantly clear that the current screening process is woefully inadequate to identify radicalized individuals with ISIS ties.

Some have demonized this opinion, saying it lacks compassion. To those folks, I would emphasize that America is the beacon of freedom to the world, in part, because it is a land of safety and security. If we jeopardize our national security, we would weaken one of the most important pillars of America’s exceptionalism, eroding our standing as the world’s superpower. This is why it is so important for Congress to take the lead in protecting our homeland by preventing those who wish to disrupt our way of life from stepping foot on our soil.

Let us not forget that the most compassionate course of action is to actually defeat the enemy which terrorizes the homeland of these very refugees. Pausing our Syrian refugee resettlement program, while an important step, will not act as a silver bullet in the war against ISIS and radical Islamist extremism. We must eliminate ISIS completely – no more leading from behind, and no more putting politics ahead of national security. Earlier this year, we saw an ISIS-inspired individual attempt to massacre hundreds of innocent civilians in Garland – reinforcing that this is not an abstract threat.

The American people deserve a government which does everything in its power to secure freedom and liberty, and this must be accomplished by prioritizing the safety of American families above all else. It is a privilege to be trusted to lead this charge on your behalf.

Rep. John Ratcliffe represents Texas’ 4th congressional district, which includes Grayson and Fannin counties among others. Contact him through his website:

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