The U.S. Senate voted down a bill that would have added security checks for refugees coming from Syria and Iraq, in an attempt to stop terrorists from slipping into the U.S.
“I was like wow, yes, safety, I don’t need to worry about explosion, somebody trying to kidnap me or kill me,” said Qahtan Mustafa. It was an immediate feeling, as soon as the plane touched down, he took and breath and the for the first time he was not afraid.
A refugee from Iraq, Mustafa came to the U.S. with his wife and son in 2009.
“The terrorists don’t differentiate between anyone,” Mustafa said he missed a few bombs, terrorist attacks, by about 30 seconds. “Every time I was leaving the house I don’t expect myself to come back,” Mustafa said.
He considers himself lucky, and after seven years in Austin, he considers himself a true Texans. “I even wear boots now,” Mustafa said with a laugh.
Wednesday’s senate vote brought another sense of relief. In a significant move, the U.S. Senate voted down a bill that would have tightened security checks for refugees coming from Iraq and Syria—countries ISIS has a strong presence.
Known as the American Safe Act, the bill would have required refugees from Syria or Iraq, even people who just visited those countries in the past five years, to be verified by the FBI, Homeland Security and National Intelligence.
“This is about our national security, this is not an anti-refugee bill,” said U.S. Senator John Cornyn. The Republican from Texas said, “We better be darn sure that whoever comes through the refugee system has been adequately vetted to protect innocent victims here in the United States.”
After the bill passed the house with overwhelming support at the end of last year, the 55 to 43 senate vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.
The democrats blocked the bill with an amendment that would have forced republican senators to go on the record and vote on Donald Trump’s controversial plan to ban all Muslims from coming to the U.S.
After the bill was voted down, Cornyn said the democrats tried to force the “circus” of the 2016 presidential election onto the senate floor.
“Unfortunately we don’t have to look very far to see why this legislation is necessary,” Cornyn pointed to the arrest of a refugee, a suspected terrorist in Houston in early January.
“I think the entire resettlement program for people from Iraq and Syria would stop,” Mustafa said another security check would make it next to impossible for his family, and others, to escape persecution and resettle in the U.S. as refugees.
“I feel really bad for them but there is not much for myself to do.” Mustafa’s parents, brothers and in-laws are still in Baghdad, surrounded by the same dangers he fled seven years ago.
His two brothers applied for the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program in 2013 but Mustafa said their application process is at a standstill. “So, I don’t know if they will even be able to make it in the next couple of years,” Mustafa said.
In America, Mustafa does not fear for his wife or two children and he does not believe people should be afraid of him or any other refugees.
“I’m just so thankful,” Mustafa said most refugees feel the way he does and love America and the opportunities he’s found here. He is thankful he is not forced to live in fear, but every day he still fears for the safety of his family back in Baghdad.
“Each time we receive a call from Iraq, it’s… we try to just breathe and prepare for the worst that we are going to receive bad news from them,” Mustafa said.