It seems increasingly popular for U.S. legislators to give Orwellian names to bills, names that imply the creation of a law that will ensure our freedoms, while the content of law actually restricts freedom. I assumed that the SAFE Act (recently passed by the House of Representatives) would be similar, giving the impression of increased safety while actually further demonizing refugees.
But I was wrong. The SAFE Act does not ensure Americans’ safety at the expense of demonizing Syrian refugees. It just demonizes Syrian refugees, period. There is nothing in this bill that might increase anyone’s safety.
My working title for this post was “Just How Daft is the SAFE Act?” I consider myself well-adept at expressing myself in writing, but I really am having a difficult time describing just how nonsensical this bill is. Here is what the bill calls for:
- It refers to “covered” refugees, which are those from Iraq, Syria, or who were in Iraq or Syria any time during which their application was pending.
- The director of the FBI needs to ensure that such covered refugees undergo a thorough background check.
- The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence, needs to individually sign off on all covered refugees before they can enter the U.S.
- The Inspector General of Homeland Security must review 20% of all certifications every fiscal year.
That’s it. No specifics about what qualifies as a thorough background check. No mention of the Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism being involved. This is perplexing, and here’s why: following 9/11 (a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that, like the one in Paris, involved no refugees and in fact involved no one with an immigrant visa – students aren’t legally immigrants), the Department of State halted all refugee resettlement in order to review and bolster the security checks of refugees. That’s right: we already went through a vetting process of resettlement and made it as about secure as it can get.
The current security checks that refugees must undergo already involves the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, along with Bureau of Counterterrorism. They use biometric data, and sometimes DNA, to ensure that the person is not on a terror watch list (remember that several Paris attackers were on watch lists). They use multiple interviews and sometimes corroborating evidence from other parties to verify the applicants story. This is on top of medical screenings to ensure that the person does not have a communicable disease (a much more likely problem than an applicant being a secret terrorist). It is a process that takes between a year and a half to two years to complete. And this is done for EVERY SINGLE REFUGEE, no matter what their origin. The SAFE Act mentions none of this, and only adds that the Secretary of Homeland Security needs to personally sign off on the process (akin to requiring a CEO of a multinational company to sign off on every product her company makes to ensure that a given item was indeed inspected by Inspector #12).
Why does the SAFE Act provide so little substance? Why does it leave out the federal counterterrorism agency if it was designed to keep terrorists out of the U.S.? My guess is that the people who wrote it and voted for it have little or no knowledge of what the current security checks on refugees involve. Perhaps it was intended to be a cynical political tool to show constituents back home that their elected official wants to keep them SAFE.
So to answer the question I pose in the title, no, the SAFE Act won’t keep us safe. But the current security process that all refugees must undergo does a very thorough job. Other than the fact that our elected officials who are making six figures a year are wasting time and money passing ridiculous bills, we have little to fear on this front.
In case you want to read the bill for yourself, it is HR 4038 and you can find it at this link. It is a quick read, since there is almost nothing in it.