Looking to increase security measures after the Paris terrorist attacks; the House approved the legislation that would halt the resettlement of more refugees coming from Syria and Iraq to the U.S.
Representatives – both Republican and Democrat – defied the veto threat announced by President Barack Obama, suspending the administration’s program that planned to admit 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2016, by intensifying the process of screening them – a process that already takes up to 24 months.
The measure was voted 289 to 137, 47 of those votes coming of Obama’s fellow Democrats that separated themselves on this matter from the White House. This new legislation would dictate that high-level officials, such as the FBI director, the director of national intelligence and the homeland security secretary, verify that each one of the refugees mean no threat to U.S. security.
According to the L.A. Times, leaders of the Republican party in the Congress are threatening to include these restrictions in a must-pass spending bill, in order to keep the federal government running past this December 11 – bringing up the ghost of another government shutdown.
Paul Ryan, Republican House Speaker, stated that it is important to act quickly when the U.S. national security is at risk, according to Reuters. However, Loretta Lynch, Obama’s attorney general, called these new screening proposals as both “impractical and impossible,” stating that these impositions probably would bring down the refugee program.
Democratic party votes, made by Jeh Johnson –secretary of homeland security– and Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, weren’t enough to change the outcome of the legislation. After the vote, a tense exchange between Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, and lawmakers was held in a House Hearing.
Richard stated that there is only a minimal threat of any of the Syrian refugees being a terrorist, a statement that Republicans didn’t share. Moreover, some of them have said that some refugees could represent a threat to the U.S., as some of the attackers on Paris made its way to Europe as refugees registered in Greece.
The bill could represent the development of the strictest U.S. screening in history of refugees coming from a nation in war. However, the next step for the legislation is going to the Senate that also has a Republican majority. It needs two-thirds of the support on each chamber to overcome a potential presidential veto. Nevertheless, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid showed skeptical about the House bill passing in the Senate, according to Reuters.
What the presidential candidates have to say about refugees
This issue has now taken over the presidential campaign scene, with Democrats supporting Obama’s choice. “Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims … that’s just not who we are,” said Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, according to the L.A. Times.
On the Republican side, presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz –current senators for the states of Kentucky, and Texas, respectively– want to propose even more radical measures. Cruz stated that he would only permit the admission of Christian refugees from Syria –a proposal that is not included in the House bill.
American’s public opinion is divided
Moreover, two recent polls made in the U.S. showed that a slight majority of Americans are in favor of restricting the admission of Syrian refugees. On the other hand, conservative groups –such as Heritage Action– believe that the solution remains on blocking part of the $500 million the State Department has requested for the refugee program of 2016, according to the L.A. Times.
Although many people consider the U.S. as a country that historically has been open towards immigrants, the public opinion is currently split, as many are speaking their concerns about the refugees posing a national security threat in a country familiar with terrorism attacks, such as the 9/11.
These concerns may have been raised to the fact that four Syrian immigrants were detained in Guatemala, having four stolen Greek passports, heading to the U.S.. Nevertheless, there wasn’t any evidence that these men were part of any terrorist group.