The House Just Voted to Make It a Lot Harder for Syrian Refugees to Enter the US

The White House has vowed to block the effort.

Santi Palacios/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Responding to increased fears of terrorism in the United States following the Paris attacks, the House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed bill Thursday that would temporarily freeze Syrian and Iraqi refugees’ entry into the United States and revamp the vetting process. The bill passed 289 to 137, with near-unanimous support from Republicans and 47 Democrats backing the measure.

“We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with our national security,” Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who was one of the bill’s sponsors, said Wednesday. In a hearing before the vote on Thursday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said he was afraid of a foreign policy “that creates more widows and orphans,” responding to President Barack Obama’s comment that those who advocate denying refugees entry to the United States are “scared of widows and three-year-old orphans.”

Dubbed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, the bill calls for “supplemental certifications and background investigations” of refugees from Iraq and Syria, which the bill’s sponsors argue would go a long way to prevent terrorists from slipping into the United States disguised as refugees.

The bill “would immediately shut down resettlement of refugees from the Syria and Iraq region,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Wednesday. “This rash reaction ignores the fact that all of the Paris attackers identified thus far are either French or Belgian, and that many terrorist threats are homegrown.” A Syrian passport was discovered by the body of one of the Paris attackers, but French officials said soon afterward that it was a forgery.

The bill does not explicitly halt admission of Syrian refugees, a response that some Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), called for this week. But it does require additional vetting of refugees by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, without specifying the procedures. Implementing the bill “would cause a pause” in the admission of refugees, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters.

It would also increase the FBI’s role in the screening process and require the secretary of homeland security, the FBI director, and the director of national intelligence to personally certify to Congress that each individual refugee is “not a threat” to the United States.

Opponents of the bill argue that the vetting process is already extensive, and even more so for refugees from Syria, who must pass an additional layer of screenings. The screening process for Syrian refugees hoping to enter the United States already takes between 18 months and three years, officials from the Obama administration said on a conference call this week. The United States has admitted fewer than 2,200 refugees since the country’s civil war broke out in 2011.

Senate Democrats are likely to block the bill, but it could spark a battle in Congress during the budget fight in December.

Obama has pledged to veto the bill if it crosses his desk. The White House said in a statement that the bill would “unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism.”

In September, Obama announced that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate