Syrian Refugees


      Last month's bombings in Brussels rekindled a call in Europe and America to tighten borders, and from many Republican lawmakers to quote, "Close the door to refugees and close it now."

      But Republican Congressman Steven Russell, a decorated combat soldier who helped hunt and capture Saddam Hussein, has stood up to his own party, appealing for America to not turn its back on Muslim refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq.

      It was four days after the Islamic extremist terrorist bombings in Paris last November. Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called for a halt to the U.S. accepting refugees from Syria, predominantly Muslim groups that ISIS terrorists threatened to infiltrate.

      Paul Ryan, Nov. 17, 2015: This is a moment where it's better to be safe than sorry, so we think the prudent thing to do is to take a pause to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.

      According to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans approved of stopping the program.

      Rep. Russell: There was a massive call for immediate cessation of people coming in on visas.

      Sharyl: Specifically from Syria, right?

      Rep. Russell: Well, named specifically from Syria and Iraq, some wanted to extend that to certain religions or whatever.

      Republican Congressman Steve Russell is a former army combat soldier who knows something about refugees from the Mideast. He did tours in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

      Rep. Russell: I've had to see my own soldiers suffer and die. I've had to take human life. I've had to do a lot of things that, in defense of my country. I understand defending my country.

      Russell insists refugees from Syria are no threat to national security. He says he was so upset by rhetoric from his own party; he took to the House floor the day after Ryan's press conference.

      Rep. Russell, Nov. 18, 2015: The Statue of Liberty cannot have a stiff arm. Her arm must continue to keep the torch burning brightly. If we use our passions, anger and fear, and we use that to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins. We have played into their hands. Period.

      Russell's speech was hours after, and very much in line with this President Obama tweet: "Slamming the door on refugees would betray our deepest values. That's not who we are."

      Russell says he's no fan of the President's foreign policy, but that on refugees, the White House is spot on.

      Rep. Russell: Nov. 18, 2015: I want you to listen carefully to these statements by members of Congress in response to a refugee bill about people fleeing for their lives. Fighting immigration is 'the best vote-getting argument. The politician can beat his breast and proclaim his loyalty to America.' Here's another one. [Congress must] 'Protect the youth of America from this foreign invasion.' These quotes were from 1939. While it was true that Germany was a threat, the refugees were not, they were 20,000 children. That Congress, with the same speech and rhetoric I am hearing in recent days in this august chamber. They passed hurdle after hurdle in 1939 to make it more difficult for refugees to enter. They were unfortunately successful.

      Russell felt that if he could verify the security of the refugee program, he could persuade his colleagues to embrace it. He invited Congressman Stephen Lynch, a Democrat, to join him on an eye-opening journey.

      Rep. Russell: So we took carry-on luggage only, and we hit several countries. We went to Kilis, Ceylanpinar in Turkey, on the Syrian border. Kilis was shelled the next day, a woman was killed, and we went to the Zaatari camp in Jordan, Syrian border.

      Sharyl: If you could say a couple of top key points that you learned on the trip, what would they be?

      Rep. Russell: A lot of people are just not aware of what is being done. The UNHCR for example, does retinal scans. There's clear identity of these individuals.

      UNHCR is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which helps resettle refugees to countries like the U.S.

      Rep. Russell: The other thing we found is that they were not under documented. They were over documented. They're coming out of a dictatorship. You know if you don't have your papers you'd be hauled away. So they would have passports, they would have licenses, they would have marriage and birth certificates, sometimes as many as twenty pieces of documentation. So then the real question came who are they? And who would we be letting here? They literally are some of the most vulnerable people.

      President Obama has pledged to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. this year. But FBI Director, James Comey, testified the federal government has no way to do thorough background checks on them.

      Comey, Oct. 21, 2015: We can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but we are not going to, there will be nothing show up because we have no record on that person.

      Sharyl: Our Homeland Security officials and FBI say, we don't know who's here. We haven't been able to track them. So they don't have the faith that maybe some of them are well checked and most of them are well meaning, but we know that terrorists are trying to exploit the system to enter the U.S. Is there a way to guarantee people don't slip through?

      Rep. Russell: Timothy McVeigh killed 167 people in my hometown of Oklahoma City. Leveled a federal building. Wounded hundreds. Should we ban all Kansans from Oklahoma? I mean you know we, we have to look at this comprehensively.

      Sharyl: People don't know what about the Syrian refugees? Specifically who needs help and would like to come to the U.S.?

      Rep. Russell: Don't confuse the narrow hundred, hundreds of Syrian war refugees in great need with the larger issue of refugees and immigration. They are not the same. One is a heavily vetted program that is in my estimation, probably one of the most secure things that we do on immigration.

      The latest bombings in Brussels may distance Russell even further from some republicans.

      Ted Cruz, March 22, 2015: We need to immediately halt the President's ill-advised plan to bring in tens of thousands of Syrian, Muslim refugees.

      Rep. Russell: I'm in a very odd place. You know I'm not embraced by, you know the opposition party, and I'm not embraced necessarily by my own party. But that's okay; I've been defending the Constitution since I was eighteen. I don't need a party to tell me what that is.

      After all the talk, Congress has not stopped the refugee program. 768 Syrians have come to the U.S. as refugees since November of 2015. Russell is working to shape a bill that would tighten security screenings while keeping the refugee pipeline open.