"This Moment Tests the Character of the Nation": Rep. Barbara Lee Rejects Anti-Refugee Efforts

StoryNovember 18, 2015
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Barbara Lee

Democratic congresswoman from California and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have called for a "pause" in the U.S. program accepting Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, governors of at least 27 U.S. states have said they will not accept Syrian refugees. We speak to California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee.

NEXTRep. Barbara Lee, Sole Vote Against Unlimited War After 9/11, Demands Debate on New Military Action
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to Washington, D.C., as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are calling for a pause in the U.S. program accepting Syrian refugees, I want to bring into the conversation Congressmember Barbara Lee of California. Your response to the crackdown? Now, 27 governors are saying they will not accept Syrian refugees. In fact, your theory, Peter Bouckaert, around the finding of the Syrian passport, the false passport, in one of the gunmen in Paris?

PETER BOUCKAERT: I think ISIS wanted that passport to be found. They hate these refugees more than anybody in Europe, because these refugees are fleeing from their self-declared caliphate. They would love it if we shut the door on these refugees. It’s pure propaganda value for ISIS if we do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Barbara Lee, what is being called for in Congress? Your response to the House speaker?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, there are some who are calling for a halt. I believe Speaker Ryan wants us to, as he said, put a "pause" in our refugee policy and resettlement policy. But I have to just say, this moment really tests the character of our nation, Amy. When you look at the vetting process, the investigations, the screening, the background checks that occur as it relates to refugees, especially Syrian refugees, this can take up to two years. Homeland Security is very thorough. I am on the Appropriations Committee, and we support and want to work to make sure Homeland Security has all the resources that it needs. But I have to say that to put a halt into allowing people to come in who are widows, who are children, who are fleeing horrific circumstances, that’s not who we are as a country. And there are many of us who are not going to accept this type of a move to really put a halt in this program.

This is the moment when we have to step up as a country and demonstrate to the world who we are. And we do have to issue—I mean, we do have, excuse me, our overall national security issues and difficulties that we have to address, but we must step up as leaders and address them in a way that is American. That’s the American way to do this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congresswoman Lee, your response to the fact that this huge refugee crisis—the responsibility of the United States, given that the refugees are largely coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, precisely the countries that our government was involved in military interventions and occupations of, and that now has led to this chaos and extremism in their own lands?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, 14 years ago, I voted against the blank check that authorized the use of force that created the conditions for what we see today. This was the wrong approach, I believe. We see that the military actions have not made the world any safer. And, in fact, we need to really begin to look at our overall strategy and look at what is—what are the underlying causes and reasons for all of this chaos and all of this violence. That does not mean that we do not intend to deal with ISIS and any other terrorist group. We can’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses. We have to have a comprehensive strategy that’s going to dismantle and defeat ISIS. But that doesn’t mean we create war and more violence and more conditions that cause people to continue to flee. So we have to go back to the drawing board, I believe, and really come up with a reasonable, rational strategy.

Also, let me say that we have not had a debate. We have not had a new authorization to use force. We have not done our jobs as members of Congress to authorize these new wars. And so we need, at this point, I think, a full debate on the options, the alternatives, the costs and the consequences. But minimally, we should not prevent people fleeing from countries that are war-torn from coming to our country. We have very strong, strict investigative processes. We do background checks. Homeland Security, if they need more resources, of course, I would support more resources. I think many members would. But we can’t allow the character and the values of our nation change under such a terrible crisis that’s taking place.

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