Governor Pence Urges Congressional Action on Syrian Refugee Issue

Indianapolis – Governor Mike Pence today sent a letter to the Indiana Congressional Delegation urging them to pause the Syrian refugee program and enact legislation that will address safety and security concerns so Indiana can renew its participation. The letter in full can be found attached, and excerpts can be found below.

 

“My highest duty and first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of the people of our state.”

 

“Furthermore, I have not directed that Indiana’s participation in the Syrian refugee program be permanently halted.  This is a suspension of participation that we look forward to lifting once the federal government can make proper assurances to the state regarding the security of the program and addressing the concerns raised by federal officials.”

 

“As our state’s representatives in Congress, I write today to urge you to pause the Syrian refugee program and enact legislation that will address the safety and security concerns so that we can renew our participation.”

Dear Senators and Representatives of the Indiana Congressional Delegation:

I write today to update you on the actions Indiana has taken regarding Syrian refugees following the November terrorist attacks in Paris. As you know, these attacks were conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and at least one of the terrorists exploited the European Union’s refugee system to gain entrance to France.

This act heightened concerns regarding the Obama Administration’s plans to resettle an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. In October, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey was questioned about the background screening

process for Syrian refugees while testifying before Congress. He stated that there were “certain gaps…in the data available to us…” regarding the Syrian refugee program and noted the “risk associated of bringing anybody in…from a conflict zone” like Syria. In November, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that the United States would not “know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth” in the refugee process.

My highest duty and first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of the people of our state. Taking all of this into account, on November 16, 2015, I provided the following directive regarding Syrian refugees to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) and other executive branch agencies.

Effective immediately and in the interest of the safety and security of all residents of and visitors to the State of Indiana, I hereby direct FSSA and all executive branch agencies working with FSSA in this regard to suspend all activities in any manner processing or facilitating the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees through the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to the State of Indiana until such time as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal and state security organizations have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and my office that resumption of acceptance of Syrian refugees to Indiana will not jeopardize the safety or security of those in Indiana.

A bipartisan majority of governors across the nation took similar action. Indiana, though, has specifically received heightened attention on this issue, and there have been misconceptions regarding the action Indiana has taken. As you can see, my directive applies only to refugees from Syria. The State of Indiana continues to welcome refugees from other countries around the world and has done so in recent days.

Furthermore, I have not directed that Indiana’s participation in the Syrian refugee program be permanently halted. This is a suspension of participation that we look forward to lifting once the federal government can make proper assurances to the state regarding the security of the program and addressing the concerns raised by federal officials.

As our state’s representatives in Congress, I write today to urge you to pause the Syrian refugee program and enact legislation that will address the safety and security concerns so that we can renew our participation. I am aware that the House of Representatives responded to this issue by passing H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015 (the “SAFE Act”) by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

And I am aware that the SAFE Act and other approaches are being considered by both the House and Senate for inclusion in next week’s year-end federal government spending bill. Changes to strengthen the security of the Visa Waiver Program would also be welcome, but ultimately any legislation that is passed must directly address the concerns raised about the Syrian refugee program so that going forward the citizens of our state

and the country can be confident that it will not be abused by ISIS to bring harm to America.

This request is not unprecedented or unreasonable. In 2009 the Obama Administration paused the Iraqi refugee program for six months after two Iraqi refugees who were placed in Bowling Green, Kentucky were discovered by the FBI to have been al Qaeda terrorists. The program was reviewed and adjusted and then resumed.

I urge a similar review to take place in this situation. The United States and Indiana have proud traditions of welcoming individuals and families who seek the safety and refuge that all Americans find within our borders. None of us wants to deny this to people who have been through war, violence and terror in Syria. They are victims of a brutal regime. However, while there are admitted security vulnerabilities in the system we must first be vigilant to protect Americans.

As you consider legislation to address these concerns, I also strongly encourage you to follow the advice of our senior Senator Dan Coats to provide additional humanitarian aid and create safe havens that would allow the United States and our international partners to serve displaced persons near their home countries.

The plight of those seeking to escape threats of violence for a better life in a place like Indiana is deeply moving, and I know that Hoosiers are anxious to welcome and help refugees from Syria, as we have done with thousands of refugees in the past and continue to do to this day. As Congress concludes its business for the year, I urge you to address the security concerns with the Syrian refugee program so that it can be resumed here in Indiana forthwith.

Thank you for your service to the Congress and our state and nation.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Pence

Governor of Indiana

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