January 20, 2016

Hirono, Democrats Kill Refugee Bill

The measure would have added onerous new layers of review to an already extensive vetting process for Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono was a vocal member of Democratic opposition Wednesday to a bill that would have added major new layers of approval required for any Iraqi or Syrian refugee to be granted asylum in the United States. The bill was defeated 43-55, falling five votes short of cloture that would have allowed a vote on the actual legislation.

An immigrant herself, having come from Japan with her family to the United States as a child, Hirono has emerged as a leading voice in the Senate on immigration issues.

“Keeping Americans safe should always be our first priority. However, this legislation does nothing to improve national security,” said Hirono in a statement distributed following the vote. “Instead, it uses smoke and mirrors to effectively ban refugees — in many cases families and children — fleeing a deadly civil war. Instead of spending time on political stunts like this one, let’s come together to discuss solutions that will actually improve our nation’s security.”

Those solutions ought to include closing a legal loophole allowing individuals on terror watch lists to purchase guns and explosives, Hirono said. She also advocated for funding to support anti-terror collaboration between federal, state and local authorities and enhancement of screening at overseas airports.

“We should focus on measures that make our communities more secure, not less welcoming to those who may be a different religion or from a particular region — especially if they are fleeing violence in search of peace and a better life,” she said.

The defeated bill would have required the directors of National Intelligence and the FBI, as well as the secretary of Homeland Security, to each review and approve any Syrian or Iraqi refugee before allowing them into the United States. The agencies under each of those administrators already have significant roles in vetting potential refugees.

Critics of the legislation said it would add unnecessary complications to an already thorough vetting process that typically takes two years and results in most applicants being turned away. Since 2011, more than 23,000 Syrian refugees have sought asylum in the United States, for instance, but only a little more than 2,000 have been admitted, about half of them children.

No Syrian refugee resettled in the United States has ever been arrested or removed over terrorism charges, according to the White House.

The Senate debate not only focused on how refugees are vetted, but prominently included Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sought to attach an amendment to the bill that would have banned all Muslims from entering the country — a controversial measure loudly favored on the campaign trail by Trump.

GOP whip Sen. John Cornyn called the amendment “ridiculous” and accused Reid of trying to trivialize “this very important national security debate.” Democrats countered that Republican senators were afraid of taking on the front runner for their party’s presidential nomination.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz joined Hirono in voting against the bill.

By:  Todd Simmons
Source: Honolulu Civil Beat