House passes bill to block Syrian refugees, require more vetting


WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Thursday to halt the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. until they undergo a more stringent vetting process — the strictest ever required for people fleeing a war-torn nation.

The legislation, passed by a vote of 289-137, was rushed through in response to last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris. One of the terrorists is believed to have entered Europe through Greece with a group of Syrian refugees, sparking calls by congressional leaders to “pause” the flow of refugees into the U.S. from Syria and Iraq.

Forty-seven Democrats joined 242 Republicans to create a veto-proof majority voting for the bill. Two Republicans — Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Steve King of Iowa — joined 135 Democrats in voting against the legislation.

The bill requires the nation’s three top security officials — the Homeland Security secretary, FBI director and national intelligence director — to certify to Congress that each Syrian or Iraqi refugee is not a security threat before the refugee can be admitted into the U.S.

The White House has issued a veto threat, saying that the bill would create significant delays and obstacles for refugees without providing meaningful additional security for Americans. The legislation still must be voted on by the Senate, where Democratic leaders say they will move to block the bill.

The bill’s supporters said the legislation would help ensure that Islamic State terrorists will not slip into the U.S. along with refugees.

“We are a nation at war,” said Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who introduced the bill with Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. “The streets of Paris could just as easily have been the streets of New York, Chicago, Houston or Los Angeles … We must take decisive action to show the American people that we are doing all we can to protect them.”

Opponents of the bill said there already is a vigorous 18-month to 24-month vetting process for refugees. They argued that the bill’s new requirements would effectively shut down the U.S. refugee resettlement program for Syrians.

“We face a choice that will echo through history,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who reminded lawmakers that the U.S. turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germanyin 1939. “We must not let ourselves be guided by irrational fear.”

President Obama plans to bring in up to 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Roughly 11 million Syrians, almost half the nation’s population, have fled their homes since the civil war broke out in 2011, and about 4 million have left their country.

The White House said that 2,174 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, and “not a single one has been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds.”

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