WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will veto a House Republican proposal that would sharply tighten screening of refugees from Syria and Iraq, according to the White House, which said the bill wouldn’t improve U.S. security after last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
All refugees already “undergo the most rigorous and thorough security screening of anyone admitted into the United States,” the Obama administration said in a statement Wednesday. The plan would “undermine our partners in the Middle East and Europe in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.”
The House plans to vote Thursday on the plan, which would block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the country unless four top U.S. law-enforcement and national security officials affirm to Congress that they aren’t a security threat. One of the Islamic State extremists who staged last week’s Paris attacks, killing at least 129 people, may have entered Europe posing as a Syrian refugee.
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged lawmakers during a floor speech Wednesday to back the measure, which is being brought to the floor only six days after the attacks. Refugees already face a vetting process of up to two years before they are admitted to the country.
“People understand the plight of those fleeing the Middle East. But they also want basic assurances for the safety of this country,” said Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. “If the intelligence and law enforcement community cannot certify a person presents no threat, then they should not be allowed in.”
The Republicans’ bill, H.R. 4038, “is not meant to be the sole solution,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said during a Rules Committee meeting on the measure.
Top Rules Committee Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York said Democrats had offered their own proposal that is to be considered as an amendment. “We all have a country to save,” she said.
The Republican measure “on its face seems reasonable. But the practical effect is to shut down refugee processing in Syria and Iraq,” said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California. “The bill is a problem and I cannot support it.”
Some lawmakers also are discussing using a government spending bill that must be passed by Dec. 11 to address concerns over Syrian refugees. Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas said, “It could be a cut or additional funding” for programs in the bill.
Obama has said he wants the U.S. to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The U.S. is already selective, usually considering for resettlement only refugees deemed “vulnerable,” such as widows, unaccompanied children or political enemies of the Bashar Assad regime. Candidates are interviewed in person at refugee camps bordering Syria and the vetting requires nearly two years on average and only around 2 percent are single males of combat age, officials said.
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