Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, and 46 other Democrats joined House Republicans late last week in voting for the American SAFE Act. The bill is a rushed response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and aimed at imposing tougher rules on the United States’ policy of screening Syrian refugees. On the surface, voting for the SAFE Act seems like a cautious response to the horrible deaths that occurred in France. But the reality is different, and it appears many House Dems voted in a way that helps cover their flanks come election time next year.
Peters doesn’t want to look soft on terrorism out on the campaign trail. Unfortunately for him, though, voting for the SAFE Act essentially has him throwing in with the Republican governors and reactionary presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who want to completely halt the federal program that would resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S. Many in the GOP say terrorists could sneak into the country by trying to seek asylum. If you based your response to this notion on sound bites and not an analysis of the situation, admit it, you’d agree.
After the House vote, Peters released a lengthy statement explaining his break with the Obama Administration, which considers the bill a cumbersome and knee-jerk response that would severely restrict young and old political refugees who are attempting to flee atrocious circumstances in the Middle East.
“The Administration has not made the case to me that today’s bill will shut down or unduly delay our existing process,” Peters statement reads. “It is not too burdensome for federal agencies to certify that admitted refugees will not endanger our communities…This bill does not close our borders, halt our acceptance of refugees fleeing violence and oppression, impose a religious test or otherwise undermine the values and freedoms that make our country so great.”
Experts, however, say the bill would most definitely halt the acceptance of those refugees. Syrian refugees are already the most heavily screened and vetted categories of people entering the U.S., Jana Mason, senior advisor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, told Time.
The vetting process now takes an average of 18 months to two years to complete. Half of all applicants pass a screening process that involves the State Department, The FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Of the 1,800 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. over the past year, half were children. A quarter of them are adults over the age of 60.
It’s unlikely the SAFE Act would pass a Senate vote, and the president has vowed to veto it if it reaches his desk. Given that, maybe this is how a Congressman who is a minority Democrat in a swing district ought to vote on a terrorist bill— with an eye on what will get him re-elected. If the thing’s not going to pass anyway, why hang a dead weight around your neck? Oh, wait a minute. That dead weight represents real people who are targets of political persecution and victims of sexual violence and torture.
“Unfortunately, the rhetoric, in particular by the Republican presidential candidates, has emotions on both sides running extremely high and we understand the anger and frustration people have with this vote,” Peters’ district chief of staff Mary Anne Pintar wrote in an email. “The Congressman has a long-standing relationship with the Muslim community in San Diego, great compassion for these refugees…It is also his job to keep Americans safe and acknowledge the very real fear that exists.”
The House of Representatives doesn’t need another Republican joining its ranks. But California’s 52nd District does need a Democrat willing to stand up for the traditional beliefs of the party, and to vote with a conviction for human rights rather than cowardly political expediency.