This post has been updated.
Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) delivered a speech on the House floor Wednesday tearing into his colleagues’ push to restrict Syrian refugees’ ability to come to the U.S., arguing that such policies will make the U.S. like the Islamic State. Russell then on Thursday voted for a House bill to expand the vetting process for refugees from Syria and Iraq.
“While I have focused my comments on actions we should take to eliminate ISIS, one action we should not take is to become like them. America is a lamp that lights the horizon of civilized and free mankind. The Statue of Liberty cannot have a stiff arm. Her arm must continue to keep the torch burning brightly,” he said in his floor speech.
“But if we use our passions and our anger, fear, and we use that to snuff our her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins. We have played into their hands. Period,” he continued.
Russell then described the rigorous process the U.S. uses to screen Syrian refugees.
“Americans across the country now are calling on Lady Liberty to drop her torch and give the stiff arm with perhaps even another gesture,” he said.
He noted that in 1939, members of Congress made similar comments opposing a refugee bill that would have aided Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
“America protects her liberty and defends her shores not by punishing those who would be free. She does it by guarding liberty with her life. Americans need to sacrifice and wake up. We must not become them. They win if we give up who we are and even more-so without a fight,” Russell said.
After his Wednesday speech, Russell voted for the SAFE Act, a House bill aimed at curbing the Obama administration’s plan to resettle more Syrian refugees that would require the heads of the U.S. Security agencies to approve the background checks of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
In his statement on the vote, Russell indicated that he hoped the bill would only spark a constructive discussion about how to vet Syrian refugees while still committing to aid those fleeing conflict in the Middle East:
Today’s vote was an especially hard one for me to take. It is difficult not to help all in need, especially running from a humanitarian crisis like we see in Syria and Iraq. We must continue to find a way to save those who run from savagery and barbarity. This bill should only be used as a vehicle for discussion with both chambers so that we may protect our country, but more importantly, find a way to protect the liberties that make us who we are as a people. This bill will hopefully start that discussion. Let us continue to pray for all who have been harmed by ISIS.
Watch his Wednesday speech: