Note: Burnt Orange Report invites progressive elected officials to publish responses to BOR posts that criticize or question their actions. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s Washington, D.C. office was contacted earlier today about Lize Burr’s post earlier today in which she criticized Rep. Doggett’s vote and initial statement on the American SAFE Act on November 19. On Friday afternoon, Rep. Doggett issued a second, in-depth statement that addresses his vote, the current process for seeking asylum in the U.S., and the Syrian refugee crisis more generally. Burnt Orange Report is reposting it here.
I am encouraged that so many have expressed their passionate concern for refugees—those who have lived in the midst of evil, desperation, and despair and are leaving everything they know for a safer and better life. Two months ago, I joined a number of colleagues who called for offering more Syrian refugees an opportunity to come to America. On Tuesday, I was one of the first to denounce Governor Abbott’s attempt to block these refugees from entering Texas. I find recent comparisons of refugees to rattlesnakes, calls for World War II-style internment camps, and other hateful rhetoric as outrageous as you do. Those who know me best, know of my long record of ensuring America remains a welcome home for those who seek sanctuary.
Why then my vote for H.R. 4038, a bill that requires additional certification and reporting to Congress on the Administration’s admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq? Answering that requires clarifying what the bill did and what it did not. It is a four page bill, which you can read in its entirety here, and which simply asks the Administration to certify what it already says it is doing – admitting only those who are not a threat – and reporting regularly to Congress. The bill need not pause the process, extend the waiting time, nor bar entry to any refugee. It does not approve Abbott’s plan to bar Syrian refugees, and it certainly does not impose an unacceptable Christian-only religious test. Neither is it a bill that I would have written, nor that I think is necessary. But it is the only related bill on which I was called upon to vote even though presented on short notice, with restricted debate, and with no chance for amendment.
Yesterday morning, with a speech drafted against the bill in my pocket, I walked over to the Capitol. I learned that the bill just approved for floor action was not the bill we had anticipated. It had been changed. After a brief presentation, I was the first Member up to question Administration officials face to face about the rationale for opposing the bill. In summary, I said I am on your side in favoring admission of immigrants and opposing the wrongheaded messages that others from my State have been sending, but just outline for me the strongest arguments for voting against this new, narrow bill. I directly and repeatedly questioned why top officials could not sign off or certify their conclusion that each refugee did not pose a threat. Instead of reasonable responses, I only heard excuses for not being held accountable both to my questions and to those of a number of other colleagues.
Some have claimed that the contents of the bill are irrelevant and that a vote for it associates me with Republican rhetoric and exaggerated claims of the bill’s impact. I disagree and think we need to be more strategic in responding to repeated Republican attempts to stir fear and divide us. When Republicans thump their chests and contrive efforts to portray Democrats as weak on security, we do not have to take the bait on every proposal.
If our shared goal is to assure that these refugees and other immigrants seeking a better life are welcomed and integrated into our communities – as I believe they should be – then having our communities feel secure about their arrival is an important objective. The Administration has described a lengthy review process for each refugee that can last two years in order to ensure that no person who poses a security risk gets admitted. It uses every tool at its disposal, including biographical and biometric information, to make this assessment before granting refugee status. How do we build support for welcoming the stranger, the needy, if our communities feel threatened? One way to address these fears is for top officials to provide assurances. And claims by the Department of Homeland Security that they cannot do this without further delay are unjustified.
There is considerable cynicism these days and often rash comments that you are all wrong and I am all right. Perhaps this is best captured by one out-of-state post that I saw today: “These 47 Democrats Just Voted to Send Syrian Refugees Back to their Imminent Death.” I respect anyone who has a different point of view but not those who demonize anyone who does not share their views 100% of the time. Whether you ultimately agree or disagree on this matter, I welcome your continued good counsel.