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US Lawmakers Set for Showdown Vote on Refugees

  • Cindy Saine

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 17, 2015, following a Republican strategy session on the Obama administration's refugee admission policies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 17, 2015, following a Republican strategy session on the Obama administration's refugee admission policies.

The U.S. House of Representatives is planning to vote Thursday on a bill sponsored by the Republican majority that would pause the Obama administration's program to resettle Iraqi and Syrian refugees to the United States. The president is threatening to veto it.

On Wednesday, new Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke on the House floor about last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

“All of us were shaken by the events... but the world community will rally together and terror will not prevail,” he said.

Ryan said the attacks are a reminder that there is evil out there, and it cannot be ignored or contained; it must be defeated.

He said the American people are uneasy after the attacks and need reassurance that the United States is doing all it can to vet asylum seekers from the violence in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement issued by the Office of Management and Budget, the White House said the House bill would add "unnecessary and impractical requirements" to the screening process for refugees.

"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," the statement says, the president would veto the bill.

A Red Cross volunteer carries a Syrian refugee baby off an overcrowded raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos Nov. 16, 2015.

A Red Cross volunteer carries a Syrian refugee baby off an overcrowded raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos Nov. 16, 2015.

Democratic opposition

The bill already faces Democratic opposition. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats have come out strongly against any measures to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees, saying they already are rigorously vetted under the present system.

The ranking Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, told VOA the United States should not slam the door on those who are facing the same terror from Islamic State militants as the Paris victims.

Three Democratic members, Representatives Adam Schiff, Bennie Thompson and Zoe Lofgren, put out a statement opposing the bill, saying: "The House Republican legislation would immediately shut down all refugee resettlement from Syria and Iraq - possibly for many years - and severely handicap future refugee resettlement around the world."

But Republican Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said Islamic State militants have declared they want to exploit the refugee admission process to carry out terrorist attacks in the West.

Two Syrian men walk through a temporary refugee camp in Gabcikovo, Slovakia, Oct. 8, 2015.

Two Syrian men walk through a temporary refugee camp in Gabcikovo, Slovakia, Oct. 8, 2015.

Complex vetting process

He told reporters that FBI Director James Comey warned it is difficult to vet refugees from Syria because of the disastrous situation there.

McCaul explained that the bill would require the FBI director and the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence to certify that each would-be refugee is not a national security threat.

McCaul said the FBI will come up with a way to perform background checks on the refugees. McCaul said the Obama administration would then have to take full responsibility for making sure the migrants do not pose a security threat.

Some conservative Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus voiced concern that the bill does not go far enough, because it does not completely block all refugees from entering the country.

President Barack Obama has promised to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees during the current fiscal year.

While remaining the world's number one haven for refugees, the United States has only taken in some 2,000 Syrian refugees during the past four-and-a-half years of civil war in that country.

If the House passes the bill, it is not clear if the Senate will take it up.

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