Why a Redlands Congressman Voted to Keep Out Syrian Refugees

By Benjamin Purper | Editor-in-Chief

The city of Redlands has an uneven political makeup; on one end of the spectrum lies the Redlands Tea Party Patriots, and on the other, the generally liberal University of Redlands. Even so, it skews more to the right than the left – according to 2010 census, 33% of the city’s population are Democrats compared to 41% Republicans. That’s probably why our last midterm election, which put former Redlands mayor and UoR alumni Pete Aguilar (D) into the House of Representatives, was such a close call. Granted, the 31st District is comprised of more than just Redlands – it also includes parts of San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga – but Representative Aguilar’s latest political move seems squarely aimed at satisfying Redlands’ more conservative constituents: he voted yes on a bill that would make it much harder for Syrian refugees to enter the country.

The American SAFE Act, as it’s called, would require every refugee entering the country to be given approval from the heads of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the director of National Intelligence. Supposedly, this would only exclude those refugees who may be a security threat, but as the Los Angeles Times reports, it would “effectively halt the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the U.S.” as a new vetting process is created.

So why would Congressman Aguilar, a Democrat, break with party leadership? The LA Times speculates that he and other representatives from California voted for the bill because they hail from “potential swing districts where the Syrian refugee issue could come up next November.”

In fact, the issue has already come up in Redlands – as the Redlands Daily Facts reported in October, “[s]ome members of Redlands Town Hall and the Redlands Tea Party Patriots have called on city officials to keep Syrian and African refugees from resettling here.” While there are still many in Redlands who disagree with them – the Daily Facts has published editorials on the issue from both side – it is clear that there is a strong constituency in Redlands that strongly opposes settling Syrian refugees in the U.S.

In a statement regarding the vote on his website, Congressman Aguilar said: “The safety of our citizens and the security of our country is my top priority. As we accept more refugees from Syria or Iraq, we must implement an additional level of security to guarantee our nation’s safety. The added level of security does not diminish our commitment to helping the innocent men, women and children fleeing the grips of Islamic State militants or the Assad regime, rather it strengthens our defense and will enable us to move forward through a safer and more secure process to relocate refugees.”

Despite the impression that this statement seeks to address liberal as well as conservative concerns, the vote itself a political victory for Redlands’ conservative constituency. The Obama Administration has made it clear that it will veto this bill, so it seems that Aguilar’s vote was mostly symbolic - only time will tell whether or not it pays off.