WASHINGTON, D.C.: Republicans took steps on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) aimed at freezing White House programs that resettle Syrian and Iraqi refugees in America, saying they want stricter security measures in place in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a “pause” in the Syrian scheme, joining more than half of state governors urging President Barack Obama to suspend the program and fully review the vetting process to ensure that would-be attackers do not slip into the country as refugees.
“Our nation has always been welcoming but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion,” Ryan told reporters. “This is a moment where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”
Some Democrats shared similar views, including senior Senator Chuck Schumer who acknowledged it might be “necessary” to pause the program amid a review.
Suspected Islamic State extremists killed 129 people and injured hundreds in coordinated attacks in Paris last Friday.
The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one Paris assailant has revived Europe’s debate on how hard a line to take on the record migrant influx, and stirred fears among US lawmakers and governors that jihadists are seeking to blend in with refugee masses in order to strike later.
Republican leaders and House committee chairs appeared to be coalescing around draft legislation that would freeze the program for Syrian as well as Iraqi refugees.
It would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence to concur that each refugee is not a security threat, according to an aide to number two House Republican Kevin McCarthy.
The FBI director also would need to certify that a background check has been done on each refugee before they are admitted to the United States.
“We need to ensure that we’re properly vetting these refugees,” said House Republican Richard Hudson, an early architect of the legislation.
McCarthy said he wants a vote on the bill by Thursday (Friday in Manila).
Should the legislation pass it could be a major roadblock for Obama’s program aimed at taking in up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016.
Another bill, by presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz, reportedly would ban all Syrian Muslims from resettling in the United States.
After his chamber held a moment of silence for the Paris victims, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others said they favored a “moratorium” on Syrian refugees.
He said he was in contact with Ryan and the White House on how to proceed.