Syrian refugees in the U.S., by the numbers
Threading the political needle on the issue of allowing Syrian refugees into the United States after the deadly Paris terrorist attacks is proving to be a daunting task for Republicans in Congress.
Seeking to balance public fears of a Paris-style attack on U.S. soil with the nation’s tradition of welcoming oppressed people of all stripes, the House of Representatives is expected to vote Thursday on a GOP plan that would prevent Iraqi and Syrian refugees from resettling in the U.S. unless the government can certify that they are not a terrorist threat.
“We’ve found a very reasonable approach that doesn’t say ban all refugees, that doesn’t say ban all certain categories of people,” Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the author of the bill, said Wednesday. “It says we need to stop unless and until we can adequately vet these folks.”
The move comes as Americans are lining up against allowing more Syrian refugees into the United States. By a margin of 56-41 percent, they disapprove of letting more refugees into the country, according to a new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released Wednesday evening.
If Hudson and Republican leaders are trying for the middle, they found their plan under fire from liberals and conservatives alike.
Most Democrats oppose it, arguing that it would be so restrictive that it would end the refugee program altogether. They also worry that the bill’s call for enhanced screening will filter out refugees based on religion, an assertion fueled, in part, by GOP presidential candidates such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“We believe that turning our backs on those escaping persecution, many of them religious minorities and victims of terrorism, runs counter to the proud and generous heritage of the United States – a country of immigrants – that has always helped those in need in the most trying times,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday he would veto the new plan if it passed the Senate and reached his desk. The White House said it would add “unnecessary and impractical requirements” to the existing screening process.
Some conservative groups also are urging Republicans to vote against the measure, saying that Obama’s administration can’t be trusted to establish screening procedures that will guarantee a terrorist won’t be among the 10,000 Syrian refugees the White House wants to allow in the country.
Instead, they argue, Republicans should defund the refugee program through a must-pass government funding bill next month – a move that could lead to a government shutdown.
Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that “lawmakers should deny funding to this program” until the administration comes up with a strong plan aimed at easing any security threats posed by the resettlement program.
Hudson’s proposal would require the FBI director and the director of national intelligence to certify that any refugee admitted to the U.S. is not a security threat. It also would mandate that the FBI director affirm that background checks were conducted on all admitted refugees by agreed-upon standards.
Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, said the bill is emblematic of a dysfunctional Congress at a time of crisis.
“I don’t know if Congress can get it together to speak with one voice on an issue like this,” she said. “But then I don’t know if Congress can speak with one voice on any issue anymore.”
The blasts from the left and the right put House Republican leaders and supporters of the bill on the defensive Wednesday. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., took to the floor of the House and declared that, “We can be compassionate and we can also be safe” in dealing with the refugee issue.
He offered assurances that the bill doesn’t have “a religious test” that would exclude Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, agreed but added that “religiously oppressed minorities” – such as Christians – “would be given preferential treatment, because they would not be deemed as much of a threat.”
“The fact is . . . we’re just trying to keep terrorists out of the country,” he added. “That’s the bottom line of this bill.”