Ellen Kan

On Nov. 23, members of Yale Law School’s chapter of the American Constitution Society — which aims to foster discussion on American legal issues — sent a letter to all Democratic members of Congress, urging them to withdraw their support for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015.

The bill, HR 4038, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 19 and has yet to be voted on in the Senate, would impose additional FBI background checks that would make it significantly more difficult for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to resettle in America.

“[Law] students within ACS were outraged and disappointed with so many of our Democratic members of Congress who chose to vote for a discriminatory and poorly conceived bill, making it more difficult for refugee families to resettle in the United States,” said Conchita Cruz LAW ’16, ACS co-president. “HR 4038 flies in the face of our values as progressives and as Americans.”

The letter urges the Democratic representatives who voted for the bill to publicly change their position and advises Democratic senators to carefully consider the consequences of the bill before voting on it. The letter stated that as progressives and future lawyers, the students wanted to ensure that politicians understand the consequences of the legislation and the message it sends to the world.

According to Cruz, the ACS board takes public positions on issues of importance to its members. Members of ACS were especially motivated to voice their concerns to Congress on this issue because many volunteer with the International Refugee Assistance Project and work with Syrian and Iraqi refugee clients.

“We know how the current system works, that refugees are already screened and go through significant scrutiny,” Cruz said. “More importantly, we know that more red tape and bureaucracy for Syrian and Iraqi refugees could be the difference between life and death.”

The letter explains how additional background checks for Syrian and Iraqi refugees are redundant and unnecessary measures that can delay refugee resettlement by years. It also argues that voting for the bill sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States discriminates against refugees and goes against the values of a country that was founded by individuals fleeing persecution and violence.

According to the letter, the bill is especially distressing because it harkens back to the discriminatory policies that excluded Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and also betrays Iraqi refugees who worked with the U.S. military and were promised safety during the most recent Iraq war.

“As a nation of immigrants, many of us see our own family narratives when we look at Syrian refugees,” said Betsy Fisher, deputy policy director of the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center. “Some of us recall past refugee crises and either cringe with regret as we think about times the U.S. failed to do all that it could to help those facing death, or with pride when we think about the lives we were able to save.”

While the letter does not suggest any alternatives to HR 4038, Cruz said that there will most likely be other legislation considered before Congress in the upcoming weeks. She expressed her hope that politicians will act in a way that does not discriminate against refugees.

Fisher said there are many other ways Congress could handle the ongoing refugee crisis, such as recognizing that Syrian refugees are already sufficiently vetted during the immigration process, providing further funding to improve the U.S. resettlement system and supporting refugees domestically and overseas.

“Iraqis and Syrians seeking resettlement are among the world’s most vulnerable people — they are women fleeing from gender-based violence, survivors of torture and religious minorities fleeing genocide,” Fisher said. “They simply don’t have years to wait.”

The national ACS was founded in 2001.