11.19.15

Senate Floor Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) As He And Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) Object To The Sudden Bid By Senator Cruz To Bring His Anti-Refugee Bill To An Immediate Senate Vote

[Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday spoke on the Senate Floor to object to a bid by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to force an immediate vote on his anti-refugee bill, introduced an hour earlier. Leahy for decades has been a leader in honoring America’s commitment to help refugees seeking safety from atrocities abroad and is the coauthor of the bipartisan legislation to respond to the refugee crisis – the Middle East Refugee Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act – which he introduced with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Recalling the heartbreak felt the world over on seeing the image of a three-year old Syrian child’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach, Leahy said that ISIS is our enemy, NOT the Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS atrocities.]

I thank the distinguished chair. I'm worried in this country that we hear rhetoric that is dangerous, and it's time to stop. It shames the very nature of what America is. We hear ideas that are wrong. I would say they are deeply anti-American.

My Italian grandparents and my Irish great great-grandparents heard some of this rhetoric when some in this country said they shouldn't come here.  Don't allow these “papists” into the United States.  Don't allow these Irish that are opposed to the rule of Great Britain in their island that actually stood up and fought against Great Britain.  And the words back then, like some of the words today, come from a place of fear and hatred. 

I don't want to stand by quietly and see the victims of terrorism and torture be demonized just so people will have a talking point for the local evening news.  We are better than this.  The bill that my colleague, the junior senator from Texas, introduced an hour ago would prevent virtually all nationals of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen from refugee protection regardless of how they suffered at the hands of terrorists and despots.  Women fleeing gang rapes, children fleeing horrors we cannot even imagine, they would be closed off. 

A few weeks ago the world came together stunned and heart-broken over the image of a three-year-old Syrian child's lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach.  His tragic death focused our attention on the plight of so many Syrians who have fled the horror of ISIS and Bashar Al-Assad.  We called it the humanitarian issue of the day.  We called forth images of our Statue of Liberty and our proud history as a land of refuge for those fleeing persecution.  I heard so many on this floor as well as commentators in the news.  But those who call now to slam our door on even properly vetted Syrian and other refugees should remember that the people we will shut out are the very children who touched our hearts just weeks ago.

Of course we are horrified by what happened in Beirut and Paris.  And we need an effective, thoughtful strategy for countering ISIS and other terrorist organizations.  That is what we should be debating.  We should be talking about how more countries should be involved in this fight.  ISIS is our enemy.  The people fleeing ISIS are not.  In fact, we've had discussions about other things that could be done.  Somebody who's on a terrorist watch list, but is in this country legally, can go to a gun show and buy all the weapons they want.  They'd break no law.  They can buy all the ammunition they want.  They break no law.  They can go to the store – like the terrorist who did the Oklahoma City bombing -- and buy the components of a bomb.  They break no law.  These are the things we ought to be discussing.

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