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Congressman Israel breaks from Queens delegation on Syrian refugee bill

Congressman Steve Israel (left) voted for the controversial American SAFE Act of 2015, while Congressman Joe Crowley (right) and five other Congress members representing Queens voted against it.
Photos via Wikimedia Commons

All but one of the seven members of Congress representing Queens County voted Thursday against a controversial bill regarding the processing of refugees escaping from war-torn areas of Syria and Iraq.

Congressman Steve Israel — whose district includes all or parts of Bay Terrace, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Little Neck and Whitestone — voted in favor of the American SAFE Act of 2015. He was one of 46 Democrats who crossed the aisle and sided with 243 Republicans on the measure.

The legislation, drafted in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, intends to increase the federal government’s review process for refugees coming to the U.S. from parts of Syria and Iraq under control of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The bill would grant refugee entry into the U.S. only after the FBI and Department of Homeland Security separately certified that the refugee passed a background investigation and does not pose a threat to national security. Supporters claim the increased provisions are necessary to guard against potential terrorists posing as refugees from sneaking into the country.

According to French authorities, eight individuals deemed responsible for the Paris attacks were all citizens or residents of France and Belgium. A Syrian passport found in the belongings of one of the attackers was believed to have been planted, according to published reports.

In a statement, Israel acknowledged that the American SAFE Act was “far from perfect,” but that “it simply puts additional safeguards in place on an already rigorous process.”

“First and foremost, we must have an ironclad process that thoroughly screens Syrian and Iraqi refugees,” Israel said. “But I also believe we must have a plan in place to allow a Syrian mother, who is trying to save her children from radicalization or murder at the hands of ISIS, to find a safe haven. This legislation does not shut the door on innocent women and children who can be certified as seeking refuge from ISIS.”

Queens’ other members of Congress — Joe Crowley, Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Maloney, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng and Nydia Velazquez, all Democrats — voted against the bill. Congressman Crowley said in a statement that he believed the legislation doesn’t sufficiently increase national security and risks keeping out a vast number of refugees.

“I opposed this legislation because its sole outcome would be to substantially delay or even end the admission of women and children fleeing Syria and Iraq into the U.S. These are innocent people who have been brutalized by both their own government as well as Daesh (ISIS),” Crowley noted. “Protecting the American people from terrorism and providing protection to thoroughly vetted refugees are not mutually exclusive. The U.S. has long stood with those fleeing violence and persecution, and I believe we can – and must – stay true to our values while ensuring our national security.”

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