How Big a Deal is the SAFE Act?

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Dante Atkins on the SAFE Act:

The bill requires the specific signatures of three high-ranking officials to personally approve refugees into the United States, a burden that both Republicans and the White House believe would all but cease the flow of refugees into the United States because it is believed that said officials would be too fearful of the career implications should one of the detainees turn out to become even a mere criminal, much less a terrorist.

I have to say, this bill has me confused. After looking into it, I wrote a post a couple of days ago suggesting that it was mostly symbolic. The vetting process didn’t change, it just needed to be documented and “certified” by the White House. Beyond that, some top officials would get half a dozen refugee approvals every day for their autopen to sign. Big deal. The only real effect would be a short pause while the certification was drafted and signed off.

Since then, though, every single story I’ve read about this bill describes it on a spectrum from “tightening” requirements to virtually shutting down the flow of refugees from Syria entirely. None of them ever provide any details, though. They talk about background checks, but the FBI already does background checks on refugees from Syria and Iraq. They talk about tougher procedures, but there are no new procedures in the bill. The actual vetting process itself is left up to the executive branch.

And yet, the White House is dead set against this bill, which it probably wouldn’t be if it was mostly just symbolic. So I remain puzzled. What’s the real deal with this bill? Is it really likely that, say, the Director of National Intelligence would simply refuse to ever sign off on a refugee approval? Hell, the DNI already signs off on hundreds of things with more potential for blowback than that.

I dunno. It’s all very strange.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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