SALT LAKE CITY – House Republicans and Democrats voted for stricter screening for incoming Syrian refugees Thursday. Despite a threat from Pres. Barack Obama to veto the legislation, it passed in the House in a 289-137 vote, according to the Associated Press.
The legislation comes in the wake of Friday’s massacre in Paris that left 129 dead and many more wounded. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS and more recently as Daesh, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The attacks triggered concerns that among the refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and the surrounding region, there may be ISIS plants waiting to get into Europe and the U.S. This concern has led the majority of Republican governors to tell the federal government they do not want Syrian refugees sent to their states.
However, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has taken a different view.
Herbert said Tuesday that Utah wouldn’t refuse the refugees.
“Utahns are well known for our compassion for those who are fleeing the violence in their homeland, and we will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety,” Herbert said in a statement Tuesday.
The LDS Democrats also released a statement in regard to the refugee situation.
But let us not respond to these crimes with fear and paranoia which causes us to abandon the very humanity that has been attacked. There is no evidence to connect the Syrian refugees to these attacks, and it is our moral duty to extend help to those fleeing violence and persecution. Let us not forget that our own pioneer ancestors were once refugees fleeing from violence.
Members of Utah’s congressional delegation have questioned the country’s current ability to properly vet the backgrounds of incoming refugees.
“We cannot adequately vet these refugees,” Rep. Chris Stewart said during an interview on MSNBC Wednesday. “… If anyone tells you we can guarantee that we’re not letting terrorists in — a goal ISIS has openly said they want to accomplish using the refugee program — it’s just not the case.”
Sen. Mike Lee expressed the same concern in an email prior to a town hall meeting held over the Internet Wednesday night.
“I am particularly concerned about the limitations of the United States and other western countries to appropriately vet Syrian and Iraqi refugees,” Lee said, “especially since ISIS has already declared their intention to use the refugee crisis as a means to infiltrate western nations.”
The legislation and vote
While Gov. Gary Herbert has said Utah would accept refugees, that statement was not unconditional. He has also said the safety of Utah’s people is paramount. To this end, he supports House Bill 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, that would put a pause on admitting the refugees and implement stricter vetting procedures.
“To protect public safety, the federal government must have a sufficient screening process in place to prevent terrorists from entering the country, while providing relief to those who are seeking asylum from violence and oppression,” Herbert said in a statement Thursday. “National security cannot be the sole responsibility of individual states and should not be a partisan issue. I am disappointed President Obama has threatened to veto this critical legislation.”
Herbert added, “As Americans, we must remember that once a terrorist enters any one state, that person has effectively entered all 50 states.”
According to the Associated Press, 47 Democrats joined all but two Republicans as the House passed the measure by a veto-proof 289-137 margin, a major setback to the lame duck president on an issue — the Islamic State group and the refugees fleeing it — that shows no signs of easing.
The vote exceeded the two-thirds majority required to override a veto, according to the Associated Press.
The measure, which in effect would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, would require the FBI to conduct background checks on people coming to the U.S. from those countries. It would oblige the heads of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States,” the Associated Press reported.
The Senate and the White House
On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who hasn’t yet scheduled debate on the issue, said Thursday it is time “to press pause” so policy makers could decide whether adequate vetting procedures are in place, calling it “the most responsible thing for the administration to do.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he’s been disgusted by the comments from Republicans he labeled “fear-mongering and bigotry.”
In a statement assuring a veto, the White House said the GOP bill would not improve Americans’ security. It said the legislation “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 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.
The Obama administration wants to increase the 70,000 refugees to be admitted from around the world this year by 10,000, with much of the increase being for Syrians.
The White House said that of 2,174 Syrians admitted to the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, none has been arrested or deported because of allegations they harbored extremist ambitions.
The Associated Press contributed to “The Senate and the White House” section of this article. For the Associated Press: ALAN FRAM, with AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner and writers Andrew Taylor and Matthew Daly contributing.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.