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US Senate to Vote on Syrian, Iraqi Refugees

  • Michael Bowman

The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early on Jan. 12, 2016, the day of President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address before Congress in Washington.

The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early on Jan. 12, 2016, the day of President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address before Congress in Washington.

The U.S. Senate is expected to hold a test vote later Wednesday on whether to severely restrict America's acceptance of refugees from Syria and Iraq, because of continuing fears that the Islamic State group and other terrorist infiltrators could be among the millions who have fled horrific violence and brutality in their home countries.

The House of Representatives passed the measure late last year with bipartisan support as the world reeled from IS-inspired attacks in Paris.

The bill would require the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence to certify that refugees pose no security risks before they could be approved for asylum in the United States.

'Properly vet' individuals

"It's clear that many Americans are concerned about the administration's ability to properly vet thousands of individuals from Syria and from Iraq," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican. "Americans deserve a vetting process they can have confidence in.

"Safeguards that weed out ISIL sympathizers can help ensure legitimate refugees to our country are not unfairly stigmatized. The American people are concerned, and they are looking to us to lead with safety and compassion," McConnell added, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The White House says the legislation is unneeded, as refugees already undergo an intensive vetting process that can take as long as two years.

The White House also argues the measure would be counterproductive, tarnishing America's image abroad and handing Islamic State a propaganda tool.

Visa waiver program

In December, Congress amended America's visa waiver program to force scrutiny of foreigners who have traveled to Syria or Iraq over the last five years.

Proponents of that legislation argued that terrorists are far more likely to exploit America's visa system than wait up to two years to come to the United States as a refugee.

The refugee certification bill McConnell is bringing up would need three-fifths backing to begin debate, and is likely to fall short of the 60 votes required.

Last year, the Obama administration said the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees -- a tiny fraction of the number that have arrived in Germany and elsewhere.

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