U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) says the United States has a responsibility to do its part to address the Syrian refugee crisis—the largest of its kind since World War II. Speaking on the Senate floor Franken said:
“As we remember the victims of the attacks in Paris, we cannot forget about all those who are fleeing the terror in Syria. The ongoing conflict in that country has created 4 million refugees,” said Sen. Franken “There should always be a place in this country for men, women, and children who are fleeing horror – the same kind of horror that befell so many innocent people in Paris last week. This is not the time to score political points. This is the time when we come together and show leadership. This is the time when we uphold the values of our nation.”
Franken’s remarks come after President Obama chastised governors and lawmakers who would like to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. as scared of widows and three-year-old orphans.
“And I would add, by the way, these are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”
Video and text of Sen. Franken’s speech
Above: video of Sen. Franken’s speech
Below: full text of Sen. Franken’s speech as prepared for delivery.
M. President, I rise today with a heavy heart to express my condolences to the people of France for the tragedy that they have experienced.
No words can describe the barbaric and senseless acts of terrorism committed against those innocent victims in Paris. People who were simply going about their lives. People who were just enjoying a meal out with their family, or attending a concert with friends. These barbaric acts were an affront to the people of France and to all of humanity.
This is a time for solidarity with France, and with all victims of terrorism. The world has rightly come together to condemn these barbaric acts. And now we have to work together and redouble our efforts to defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria, in Iraq, and elsewhere.
And as we remember the victims of the attacks in Paris, M. President, we cannot forget about all those who are fleeing the terror in Syria. The ongoing conflict in that country has created 4 million refugees. These are people who are fleeing Assad’s barrel bombs and his brutal assault on them on the ground. And they are fleeing murderous terrorist acts committed by ISIS and other groups.
Of that 4 million, M. President, 1.9 million are in Turkey; 650,000 are in Jordan—a country of 6.5 million people; and 1.2 million are in Lebanon—making up a fifth of Lebanon’s entire population.
Now, the White House has a very modest plan to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the next year. It’s a tiny number compared to what other nations are doing.
Even France, the country that just suffered the terrorist attacks, is going to honor its commitment to take 30,000 refugees over the next two years.
Each one of the 10,000 refugees we are accepting, Mr. President, is important because it can be the difference between life and death for that individual. That’s why I was proud to join Senator Durbin and other members to urge the White House to do more – because we can and we should do more.
Mr. President, the United States has always been a refuge for the vulnerable. For those who are fleeing political repression. Or those who are persecuted simply because of their religion.
And the Syrian refugees that the Administration is prioritizing for entry are in fact the most vulnerable. These are survivors of violence and torture, people with medical conditions, and women and children.
Mr. President, the news site BuzzFeed has published a series of images of young Syrian refugees. I encourage everyone to look at these images because they capture the vulnerability and the desperation of the people we are trying to help.
Children like Ahmed, who is shown sleeping in the image behind me. As the BuzzFeed story says, Ahmed is a 6-year old who carries his own bag over the long stretches that his family walks by foot. “He is brave and only cries sometimes in the evenings,” says his uncle, who has taken care of Ahmed since his father was killed in their hometown in northern Syria.
Children like Maram. Maram is an 8-year old and the story describes how her house was hit by a rocket. A piece of the roof landed right on top of her and the head trauma caused her brain hemorrhage. She’s no longer in a coma, but has a broken jaw and can’t speak.
We can only hope that these children won’t share the fate of Ayland Kurdi, whose image I cannot get out of my mind. He is the drowned three year old boy whose photograph on that beach galvanized the world. He was part of a group of 23 who had set out in two boats to reach the Greek island of Kos. But the vessels capsized. Aylan drowned, as did his 5-year-old brother, Galip. And so did the boys’ mother, Rehan.
Now, in the aftermath of the gruesome terrorist attacks in Paris, some have taken the view that we should turn our backs on these people – the very people who are fleeing from the terrorists. Some argue that we cannot both help these vulnerable men, women, and children, and keep the country safe. But they paint a false choice, M. President. We can do both. And we should do both.
Let me take a minute to describe the stringent and very extensive security screening procedures that these individuals go through before they can enter the country—procedures so extensive that it can take up to two years for them to be cleared to come here.
These refugees, Mr. President, are subject to the highest levels of security checks of any category of traveler entering the country. Those screenings include the involvement of our security and intelligence agencies like the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.
All available biographic and biometric information of these refugees are vetted against law enforcement and intelligence community databases so that the identity of the individual can be confirmed. And every single refugee is interviewed by a trained official from the Department of Homeland Security.
And finally, Mr. President, the screening process accounts for the unique conditions of the Syria crisis and subjects these refugees to additional security screening measures.
Now, we absolutely need to make sure that these security measures are as stringent and thorough as possible, and if there are ways to further enhance these screening protocols, we should make sure we are doing that.
Each year, the United States accepts tens of thousands of refugees from around the world. And there is no reason why some of those can’t be Syrian refugees who are the most vulnerable.
So we can strike the right balance. We can protect our security and do our part to address the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
But rather than showing compassion and standing up for American values, many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to close the door to people who are fleeing the most horrendous forms of persecution. I believe that would betray our core values. And it would send a dangerous message to the world that we judge people based on the country they come from or their religion. And it would make us less safe by feeding into ISIS’ own propaganda that we are at war with Islam.
Mr. President, we are better than this. Remember the closing lines of the poem that is inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty – that gift from France to the United States that is a symbol of freedom and of generous welcome to foreigners. The poem, “The New Colossus,” was written by Emma Lazarus, who was involved in charitable work for refugees and was deeply moved by the plight of Russian Jews—like my grandfather, who had fled to the United States. The closing lines of her poem are:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
There should always be a place in this country for men, women, and children who are fleeing horror – the same kind of horror that befell so many innocent people in Paris last week.
This is not the time to score political points, M. President. This is the time when we come together and show leadership. This is the time when we uphold the values of our nation.
Thank you, Mr. President.