US Republicans propose tightening Syrian refugee screening

US Republicans, defying Obama, propose tightening Syrian refugee screening after Paris attacks

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Republican chairman of the House's Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul leaves after he and members of the House of Representatives were briefed by Obama Administration officials about counterterrorism measures at the US Capitol on November 17, 2015

The United States Republican lawmakers defied US President Barack Obama on Wednesday and set out plans to tighten screening of Syrian refugees a week after Paris attacks, which caused a political fight challenging America’s view of refugees.

After DAESH had killed 129 people in French capital, Paris on Friday, Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House's Homeland Security Committee, expressed his concerns about possible attacks in the United States and proposed additional scrutiny of refugees fleeing Syria or Iraq seeking to enter the United States.

According to Republican-backed bill, no refugee could enter the US until top US security officials, the Homeland Security secretary, the FBI director and the director of National Intelligence, assure Congress that they do not imperil national security.

Americans are "uneasy and unsettled" over the events in Paris, said House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican.

"We are a compassionate nation. We always have been and we always will be. But we also must remember that our first priority is to protect the American people," he added.

The White House said on Wednesday that Obama would veto the Republican bill introduced in the wake of the Paris attacks adding that the measure "would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world."

The US House of Representatives would vote as early as Thursday for resolution 4038, proposed in an attempt to block administration plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016.

"Given the lives at stake and the critical importance to our partners in the Middle East and Europe of American leadership in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, if the President were presented with HR. 4038, he would veto the bill," the White House said.

Obama spoke at an Asia-Pacific summit in Manila, accusing Republicans of "hysteria and exaggeration of risk" in an attempt to make it more difficult for refugees to enter the US.

"Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values. That's not who we are. And it's not what we're going to do," Obama later wrote on Twitter.

Obama supported a plan announced by the White House in September that would allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US in a year.

Refugees fleeing from Syria already undergo a screening process that can last between 18 and 24 months, involving multiple US security agencies as they are entering the US.

On Thursday, the House will start debate on the bill proposed by McCaul that would make it even more difficult for those Syrians, as well as for Iraqi refugees.

The Senate which includes a smaller majority of Republicans than in the House, would have to approve any legislation on refugees before it could take effect.

Democrats and some Republicans opposed McCaul’s bill, raising the possibility it might not pass the House.

Some of the most conservative House Republicans supported an amendment that would put a six-month suspension on admitting refugees from Syria and Iraq. Other conservatives complained that the bill did not specifically cut off funding for the refugees' resettlement.

McCaul is also preparing to propose to tighten a visa waiver program that lets citizens of participating countries, many in Europe, enter the US without a visa.

US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan holds a news briefing following the weekly Republican Conference meeting at the US Capitol on November 16, 2015 (AFP)

No discrimination against Muslims

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republican attempts to heighten the screening of refugees would not discriminate against Muslims, who constitute the vast majority of population both in Syria and Iraq

"We will not have a religious test, only a security test," Ryan said in a speech on the House floor.

However, some Republicans said only Syrian Christians should get asylum in the United States.

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher said that the reason for prioritising Christian refugees was about national security.

"At least these Christians wouldn't be potential terrorists," he said.

The disagreement over refugees challenged the idea whether America is a nation which always welcomes refugees in trouble.

"We are, over our history, a country that's made up of immigrants, sometimes some more welcome than others. These (Syrians) are, for the most part, people fleeing for their lives," said Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who criticised Republican efforts to intensify scrutiny of refugees.

TRTWorld and agencies