Update: Sean Patrick Maloney Responds To His Critics Below
Progressive, Democratic and gay New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney caught some angry flak for putting out a ringing defense of Syrian refugees–and then voting for a Republican bill that would place new restrictions on accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. Openly gay Colorado Rep. Jared Polis basically did the same. Rhetoric defeated reality.
Many are outraged, first because gay Congressmen were supporting a Republican bill, and second because their vote made it look like they were discriminating against an oppressed group–a special sin for representatives of the LGBT community.
First the good words from Maloney:
Our nation has long stood as a beacon of freedom, but after the events of the last few weeks some leaders have given into fear and turned their backs on refugees. These actions are reprehensible, and present a false choice between our values and our security. It’s understandable that people are scared, and Americans have a right to know that the process we use to screen refugees will keep us safe. I have a lot of faith in our system, and I don’t believe these refugees — the overwhelming majority of whom are women, elderly, and children – threaten our communities or national security. So instead of slowing the program or pausing it, the Administration should agree to immediately certify refugees if they pass the current extensive screenings and we should all refocus on actual threats.
Queerty asked Maloney how he could reconcile those admirable sentiments with his support of the Republican bill, and he replied:
I understand, indeed share, so many of your concerns. I begged the White House to simply embrace an automatic ‘certification’ done by executive directive to the agencies at the conclusion of the existing process. (Something they could still do under the legislation.) We have a two-year process that works and reviews mostly seniors, women and children. There’s no reason on earth they couldn’t have done the simple step called for in this bill. This is nothing like what the GOP presidential candidates are calling for; it’s actually a weak weak bill. By opposing it we’ve created this ridiculous ‘sending them to their death’ narrative. The president just needs to get home from the Phillipines, with a stop in Paris, and lead the country through this frightening period. I’d really encourage you to read the bill. It’s nothing like the click-bait stories suggest. But again, I lost sleep over this and still struggle with it.
We did read the bill, and see at least two problems in it. First, it singles out refugees from Syria or Iraq–or anyone who “has been present in Iraq or Syria at any time on or after March 1, 2011″ for special treatment. Secondly, it requires three top Federal officials–FBI Director, Secretary of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence to cerify that each “covered alien is not a threat to the security of the United States.” And while Maloney thinks the administration could get around this through an “automatic certification process,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and FBI Director James B. Comey both said the House bill would create significant new burdens for the administration. “To ask me to have my FBI director or other members of the administration to make personal guarantees would effectively grind the program to a halt,” said Lynch.
The whole debate may become soon become moot. First, the bill has to get through the Senate, and minority leader Harry Reid has said that will never happen.
And even if it does get through the Senate, the President has said he will veto it, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has predicted that the House would sustain his veto.
Despite his vote yesterday, Maloney has not ruled out voting to sustain Obama’s veto if the bill does come back to the house.
As for the equally tortured Polis, who is from a family of Jewish refugees, this is what he said on his Facebook page:
Some of the Syrian refugees are gay. Others are Christian. Others are Muslim. It shouldn’t matter. They are all human beings. My own family history, as is true for so many Americans, also includes fleeing from oppression and persecution to the promise of freedom here in America. I have worked with and gotten to know so many wonderful refugee families in Colorado and founded a school whose mission includes serving displaced young people. It is that personal background that makes me so passionate about this issue and ensuring that America can provide a safe new start for some of those who have lost everything.
I’ve received plenty of calls, tweets, letters and Facebook messages about my vote yesterday on the SAFE Act and I wanted to use this forum to further explain my position. Many people unfortunately interpreted my vote yesterday as a vote against refugees. Such an interpretation is very painful to me, and nothing could be further from the truth. Without reservation, I’m a staunch supporter of accepting refugees from all countries and faiths who are fleeing violence and persecution. For months, I have been pushing the Obama administration to increase the amount of refugees we are accepting from Syria. As recently as September, I sent letter to the Administration urging them to accept 100,000 Syrians over the next year.
The civil war in Syria has displaced over nine million people to date; we MUST do more than simply accepting an additional 10,000 refugees when we have the capacity to help so many more and our European allies are so strained. In light of the ever-evolving threat of violent extremism, however, I believe that we must also be willing to collectively reexamine our screening procedures in order to help ensure the safety of our communities. We don’t have to choose between providing refuge to displaced peoples and keeping our own citizens safe – these goals are not mutually exclusive. That’s why I voted for the SAFE Act yesterday. After careful review, and after speaking with the White House, I understood that the SAFE Act would NOT prevent us from accepting refugees in the future, nor would it cause delays. It’s unfortunate that the current debate over the SAFE Act has become so polarized – on both sides.
Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve forcefully advocated for enabling children and families whose lives have been torn apart by violence to take refuge in the United States. I don’t believe we have to choose between a robust vetting process and accepting refugees, I believe we can and must –do both.
UPDATE: Sean Maloney Responds:
To my progressive friends: boy, have I heard you on this Syrian refugee vote. I clearly failed to see how much symbolic weight so many of you put on this. I own that. (Note that nearly 50 Dems and many liberals voted this way.) I was angry with the White House for not simply standing behind its already extensive screening process by saying sure, we’ll do an instant agency-head certification at the end. It seemed like classic bureaucratic push back, which will hand the conservatives more ammunition to do real harm. I saw this as a workable firewall to protect the process without harming a single refugee. Indeed, I thought it would actually provide cover for the President to increase (as we must) our acceptance of those who need and deserve refuge here. But I see now that many of you thought this was a conscience vote and, in those terms, I see why you felt let down.