House Gets Tougher on Syrian Refugees
December 08, 2015
Just a week after the ISIS attacks killed 129 people in Paris, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would stop the entry of refugees from Syria and Iraq until FBI background checks and additional certifications are added to their screening process. The SAFE Act passed by a vote of 289-137, and included the support of 47 Democrats, which places it above the two-thirds mark required to overturn a veto.
In advance of the vote, the White House issued a formal veto threat and stated that the current screening process wads enough to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists sneaking into the country via the refugee process, and claimed that the changes called for under the bill would create "significant delays and obstacles" for the existing vetting program. In the days since the attacks in Paris, authorities have confirmed that the attackers posed as Syrian refugees to gain access to Europe.
Specifically, the bill would require the FBI director to certify a background investigation for each refugee. Additionally, several top security officials including the Secretary of Homeland Security would have to certify that each refugee is not a security threat to the U.S. -- before a refugee from Iraq or Syria can be admitted.
Currently, the refugee screening process typically takes 18 to 24 months and includes interviews, fingerprinting and database crosschecks by several federal agencies. Syrians undergo additional screening involving data from the U.N. Refugee Agency and interviews by Homeland Security Department officials trained to question Syrians.
With both houses of Congress off this week for Thanksgiving, and Senate Democratic leaders prepared to mount a filibuster, the bill’s future is unclear. It is highly likely that the refugee fight will roll into an omnibus spending bill ahead of a December 11 government shutdown deadline. This is an opportunity for Republican Senators to take a stand on an issue of utmost importance to national security. Given the number of U.S. Senators currently seeking their respective party’s nomination to the White House, this will be an issue to watch for voters, and one that could define the 2016 presidential election. Americans will be closely watching how each candidate reacts.