Amid fears that the United States could become victim of a deadly Paris-style terrorist attack, the House of Representatives Thursday approved a bill to impose heightened security measures on Iraqi and Syrian refugees seeking to resettle in this country.
Lawmakers voted 289-137 on a measure sponsored by Reps. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that would prevent refugees from those battle-scarred nations from entering the U.S. unless the heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence certify that each refugee doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S.
“When we allow refugees into this country, we must be guided by one single principle,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on the House floor. “If you are a terrorist or a threat to our country, you are not getting in. Period.”
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.
Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values. That's not who we are. And it's not what we're going to do.
President Barack Obama
“This legislation would introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism, and would undermine our partners in the Middle East and Europe in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis,” the White House said in a statement.
But Thursday’s outcome produced enough support to override a veto with more than two-thirds of the House voting for the bill.
Senate Republican leaders were mulling what to do with the House bill Thursday. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters that the measure isn’t going anywhere in the upper chamber.
“Don’t worry, it won’t get passed,” Reid said Thursday. “Next question?”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., moved the bill to the floor quickly this week in response to last week’s terrorist strikes in Paris that killed at least 129 people. He said he wanted a “pause” in Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees.
The bill divided House Democrats.
The party’s leadership balked at the measure, calling it a prelude to ending the refugee resettlement program altogether and a betrayal of America’s tradition of welcoming oppressed peoples of all stripes.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass, accused Congress of “losing its humanity” by considering the bill.
“What we’re doing today is not protecting the American people, it is not about helping people fleeing war and violence,” he said. “This is political.”
In the end, 47 Democrats broke party ranks and voted for the bill.
“This refugee situation is unnerving our people,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of 15 centrist Democrats who announced their support for the bill Wednesday night. “So I’m going to keep my people in Georgia safe and the nation safe.”
Obama’s existing plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S. has roused opposition since the Paris attacks, from more than 30 of the nation’s governors and disapproval from a majority of Americans.
An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released Wednesday found that Americans disapprove letting more refugees into the country by a margin of 56-41 percent.
House GOP leaders and sponsors of the bill said the measure is a prudent response to American concerns that what happened in Paris could happen here. One of the alleged assailants in the Paris attacks reportedly arrived in Europe through Greece posing as a Syrian refugee.
Proponents of the resettlement program blasted the House vote Thursday. They say refugees already go through a stringent vetting process that takes 18 to 24 months from start to finish, according to State Department figures.
Backers of the bill show not only a “a willful ignorance of a secure process established by our nation’s intelligence and security experts, but also do a disservice to America’s long tradition as a nation that welcomes vulnerable people in their greatest hour of need,” said Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, a human rights and anti-poverty organization.