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National Security Experts, Military Leaders, 62 Mayors Tell Congress: We Must Welcome Syrian Refugees

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While some two dozen Republican Governors have publicly announced Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states — a political stunt these Governors cannot lawfully back up — a host of national security experts, military leaders, and over 60 mayors have signed letters telling Congress to uphold American values and welcome Syrian refugees.

One letter to Congress has been signed by a bipartisan list of 20 policy experts, including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta and William Perry, and former Secretaries of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano:

We write to express our opposition to proposals that would effectively halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States following the terrorist attacks in Paris. We believe that America can and should continue to provide refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution without compromising the security and safety of our nation. To do otherwise would be contrary to our nation’s traditions of openness and inclusivity, and would undermine our core objective of combating terrorism.

The process that refugees undergo in order to be deemed eligible for resettlement in the United States is robust and thorough. They are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler, and this vetting is conducted while they are still overseas. Those seeking resettlement are screened by national and international intelligence agencies; their fingerprints and other biometric data are checked against terrorist and criminal databases; and they are interviewed several times over the course of the vetting process, which takes 18-24 months and often longer.

Given the stringent measures in place, we are especially concerned by proposals that would derail or further delay the resettlement of Iraqis who risked their lives to work with the U.S. military and other U.S. organizations. These refugees were given priority access to U.S. resettlement under the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act. The United States has a moral obligation to protect them.

We must remain vigilant to keep our nation safe from terrorists, whether foreign or homegrown, and from violence in all its forms. At the same time, we must remain true to our values. These are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, resettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.

Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism. Categorically refusing to take them only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims are not welcome in the United States and Europe, and that the ISIS caliphate is their true home. We must make clear that the United States rejects this worldview by continuing to offer refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, regardless of their religion or nationality.

A second letter to Congress in support of Syrian refugees this week has been signed by over 60 mayors from 28 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and urges Congressional legislators to take “no action that will prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States after they have completed the screening process.”

Signatories of the letter including the Mayors of Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Newton, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Tallahassee.

We write to register the support of the nation’s mayors for the U.S. refugee resettlement system and to recognize the importance of continuing to welcome refugees to our country and to our cities. In recent days some have suggested that Congress should halt the entry of refugees, particularly Syrian refugees, to this nation. We urge you to resist this call and take no action that will prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States after they have completed the screening process.

Last year the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted policy that recognizes this nation’s leadership in protecting refugees and celebrates the contributions refugees make to their communities. Through that policy, the Conference supports efforts by the federal government to ensure that the U.S. resettlement program remains responsive to the needs of refugees and of the communities in which they settle.

The policy describes the U.S. refugee resettlement program, administered by the Departments of State and Health and Human Services, as a unique and robust public-private partnership of the federal government, state and local governments, non-profit agencies, and individuals. That resettlement program begins with a rigorous screening system, one that subjects potential refugees to the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States.

Our nation has always been a beacon of hope for those seeking peace and protection from persecution. We urge you to take no action that will jeopardize this rich and proud heritage.