Washington — To no one’s surprise, the Louisiana delegation overwhelmingly supported the bill passed by the U.S. House last week that tightens the squeeze on refugees from Syria and Iraq seeking entry to the United States.
House Republicans voted 242-2 for the bill, and five of the six Louisiana members are Republicans. One of them — Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge — introduced his own version of the measure, and he was joined by co-sponsors Ralph Abraham, of Alto, Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, and John Fleming, of Minden. They all voted for the bill that ultimately passed, as did House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson.
But the delegation was not unanimous. Although 47 House Democrats joined the Republican majority for the bill, 135 Democrats voted “no” — including Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans.
The issue leapt to the top of the House agenda because of the horrific terrorist attacks that killed 129 people in Paris on Nov. 13. The attacks were the work of the Islamic State, the violently fundamentalist force that carved out territory in Syria and Iraq in an effort to establish a Muslim caliphate. The attacks were retaliation for the participation by France in military assaults on the Islamic State on its home turf.
The intense reaction to the Paris atrocities makes it clear French lives matter.
Soon after the vote for the refugee bill, Richmond stepped to the microphone on the House floor and said, “I rise today to, of course, extend my heartfelt condolences to victims of terrorism in Paris. But what I also want to do, because I take my membership in this august body seriously, is to make sure that we’re not fostering the perception that black lives don’t matter.”
Richmond, the delegation’s only black member, mentioned the death toll exacted in terrorist attacks last year by Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group active in West Africa — a number that exceeds the Islamic State’s body count. He listed recent terrorist incidents in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.
“Terrorism is plaguing communities all across this world,” Richmond said.
“We should make sure that we, as the United States Congress, highlight all of those communities and express our condolences and seek to create peace.”
Graves, too, spoke on the House floor after the vote. Among other things, he cited an account from “a place where you apparently get real information” — the Drudge Report, an influential right-wing website — that authorities in Honduras apprehended several would-be Syrian immigrants carrying fake passports. He mentioned another report of “folks from the Middle East” trying to cross the Mexican border illegally into Arizona and Texas.
The bill passed by the House would require more intense review of would-be refugees from Syria and Iraq, with a stipulation that high administration officials attest to their worthiness.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Graves said. “We should not be sacrificing the security of Americans. There are ways to where we can be good community citizens, good world leaders and allow for refugees to come here.”
All this occasioned much tweeting. Richmond’s Twitter feed included a snippet from his floor speech. Graves retweeted about the Drudge Report and the House legislation. Fleming tweeted about the Honduras episode.
In the process, distinctions were lost, and the net was cast ever wider. Syria is a country of more than 20 million people that includes Muslims of various sects and degrees of fervor, as well as more than 1 million Christians. Not long ago, Republicans and Democrats backed efforts to identity and support moderate Islamic forces in the ongoing Syrian civil war (Graves alluded to one such failed attempt by the federal government in his speech). But the reports on Drudge and the other outlets gave no indication of whether the Syrians involved were terrorists — or even Muslims. And Graves extended his scope to the entire Middle East.
In a later tweet, Fleming referred to a news release he issued saluting the House vote. In the release, he included a line that cuts two ways: “Today’s vote,” the release says, “signified the need to distinguish between refugees seeking resettlement and terrorists seeking destruction.”
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he is on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/