Last week, 47 Democrats in the House voted to suspend the plan put forth by President Obama to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in fiscal year 2016. They joined 242 Republicans in voting for the bill.
While it is disappointing to see Republicans voting against allowing refugees into the country they do represent the party of exclusion. Their leading candidate for president suggested we make Muslim Americans register like Hitler and his Nazis made the Jews do in Germany. He wants to kick 11 million people out of the country. So, while reprehensible, their votes were expected. I am less sanguine about Democrats voting for this and totally unwilling to accept explanations from gay and bi Democratic members of Congress Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) for their votes in favor of this bill. They voted to protect their own asses in the next election and should find it difficult to look in the mirror today.
For Maloney, this isn’t the first time he has voted with Republicans. According to the Gay City News, “On September 30, 2013 in the decisive vote, Maloney, who is gay, was one of nine Democrats who defected, voting with the Republicans on the bill that has essentially left the government without the money needed to keep it running. Its doors have been shuttered ever since.”
In talking about Sinema’s vote, radio host Michelangelo Signorile wrote, “She is the worst: She was actually an attorney for an Iraqi refugee in ’07, arguing that his vetting was taking too long, over 2 years, discriminated against based on his nationality. Now she votes this way. She’s a total fraud.”
The question we must ask is whether these members of Congress crossed the line in giving up principle to save their seats. Our nation was built on the backs of immigrants. My parents were immigrants. The debate on whether to welcome immigrants and refugees brings out the best and the worst in the people of our nation. The votes cast by Maloney, Sinema and Polis are simply playing into the worst and pandering to fear. This is not a vote they will be proud of.
As gay and bisexual individuals they should only look at the discrimination their brothers and sisters have faced both here and around the world to know this is wrong. History informs them as homosexuals they could have been rounded up with the Jews in Nazi Germany, made to wear identifying symbols, and put to death. Would they have voted to delay applications by their brothers and sisters in the LGBT community from getting into the United Sates as refugees at that time? Shame if their answer is yes. Unnecessarily delaying refugees who are escaping persecution is what they voted for. They need only look back a relatively few years to when we wrongly interred Japanese Americans based on fear, and then Joseph McCarthy trying to imprison communists and kick every gay person out of government to realize how wrong their votes were. They wouldn’t be in Congress were it not for the brave people who stood on principle and fought those policies.
Sinema said of her vote, “The Islamic State is a legitimate, immediate threat to the United States. Congress and the administration have a duty to keep our country safe from terrorism, and this legislation provides an added level of security to our robust refugee vetting process.” She must know that’s not an acceptable excuse for doing the wrong thing.
These three members of Congress should have listened to Hillary Clinton, who said, “We cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations. Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are. We are better than that.”
Delaying for years accepting those wanting to take refuge in our country will do nothing to make us safer and only gives in to terrorists who want these refugees to have nowhere to turn.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.