The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has grown stronger and more dangerous - in part - as a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The recent terrorist attacks – all directly carried out or inspired by ISIS – in Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando were horrifying. On November 13, 2015, members of ISIS took the lives of 130 civilians, including an American, in a series of coordinated and barbaric attacks in Paris. Then, on December 2, 2015, two shooters, inspired by and loyal to ISIS, launched a terrorist attack on a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 civilians and wounding 21 others. Unfortunately, the senselessness of radical Islamic terror continued on March 22, 2016, when ISIS affiliates attacked an airport and an underground subway in Brussels. These coordinated attacks cost 32 innocent people their lives, including four Americans, and injured more than 300 others. Further violence occurred on June 12, 2016, when a gunman, who reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, opened fire at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub, in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 civilians and wounding 53 others. Members of the LGBT community were the targets, and they were simply attacked for being who they are. It is horrifying to see so many innocent lives cut short by such cowardice. With deep sadness, I join the rest of the nation in grieving with the families of the victims, thanking the first responders, and praying for a swift recovery for the injured in the aftermath of these evil atrocities.
As we heal, we need to be clear-eyed about who caused these tragedies. When innocent human lives are taken by the scourge of terror, in foreign countries or in our own, we are reminded that true evil exists and that we are at war with evil people and an evil ideology. Radical Islamic terrorism is repressive and hateful. It respects no borders and threatens people at home and abroad. Our enemies are the enemies of freedom and are capable of ruthless barbarism as they seek to slaughter the innocent on an unthinkable scale. We must not deny these facts or doubt the dangers posed by them. However, we must also remember that we are capable of defeating this enemy, and we must commit ourselves to doing so. As we stand in solidarity with victims of terrorism around the world, the depth of our compassion must be matched by our commitment, not merely to the containment of ISIS, but to its complete and absolute destruction. Our security depends on our refusal to back down in the face of terror. We never will.
And, as you may know, on January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order intended to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States. This executive order requires the Secretary of State to temporarily suspend the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. For the duration of these 120 days, the Secretary of State must work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence to review the USRAP application and adjudication process, and subsequently make adjustments to ensure that all refugees approved for admission to the United States do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States. In addition, until sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure the program is working in the national interest, the executive order temporarily denies Syrian refugees entry into the United States. The order also temporarily suspends, for 90 days, the visas of immigrants and nonimmigrants from seven countries in order to reduce the investigative burden on relevant agencies while they perform a review, and amend as appropriate, the visa issuance process to maximize our ability to detect would-be terrorists before they enter our country. These countries – which include three nations designated by the State Department as state sponsors of terror – were identified by the previous administration, in consultation with the last Congress, as countries of concern for national security reasons, which may pose challenges to American officials vetting incoming travelers. Far from violating United States immigration law or the Constitution, this type of pause is explicitly authorized by federal statute. In fact, the Obama administration paused refugee applications from Iraq for six months during 2011 due to concerns about terrorists infiltrating refugee populations; however, that particular action has been often overlooked.
I believe it is time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process. Our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland. You may recall the horrifying terrorist attack that occurred on November 13, 2015, when members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) took the lives of 130 civilians, including an American, in a series of coordinated and barbaric attacks in Paris, France. In the wake of this sickening terrorist attack, the House swiftly acted to pause a portion of the refugee resettlement program in order for a security review to take place. On November 17, 2015, Representative Michael McCaul introduced H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015. This bill required the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ensure that individuals seeking to come to the United States as refugees from Iraq or Syria receive a thorough background investigation prior to admission. Just two days later, on November 19, 2015, in overwhelming bipartisan fashion and with a veto-proof majority, the House passed H.R. 4038 by a vote of 289 to 137. I applauded my colleagues in the House for putting politics aside to keep the American people safe. Unfortunately, despite top Obama administration law enforcement officials admitting to gaps in our refugee program vulnerable to terrorist exploitation, Senate Democrats blocked consideration of H.R. 4038 in January 2016.
That being said, it is important to note that I support the refugee resettlement program. That’s why I have urged the administration to conduct this review and update our procedures as soon as possible so that we can move forward with the proper security safeguards in place. It is also critical to note that this is not a religious test. And to contend that this is a blanket policy directed toward Muslims or Muslim-majority nations is false. This order does not affect the vast majority of Muslims in the world. It also does not affect a large number of nations that are of Muslim-majority. The temporary visa suspension is focused only on those nations where terrorism is a particular concern. And the temporary suspension of the refugee program is applied to all countries. To deny a person entry into the United States on the basis of religion would be wrong, period.
There are many Muslims proudly serving in our armed forces and fighting for this country. Muslims serving in other parts of our government work hard every single day to uphold and defend the Constitution, and throughout the nation, American communities are strengthened by our fellow Americans who are Muslims. As we work to protect Americans of every creed, we must always remember that some of our strongest and most critical allies in the struggle against radical Islamic terror are Muslims – the vast majority of whom are peaceful and believe in pluralism, freedom, democracy, and individual rights.