The US House of Representatives, in a 289-137 vote, passed a measure that would make it even harder for refugees from Syria and Iraq to enter the United States.
The bill, pushed through today (Nov. 19) by Republican leadership, would only allow refugees from those countries to come in after personal approval from top national security officials. It comes in the wake of the the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129. Some 47 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.
The vote came very close to achieving enough votes—290—to override a presidential veto, which the White House has threatened.
If the bill became law, the heads of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, and the director of national intelligence, would have to certify to Congress that each refugee is not a security threat.
The bill also calls for thorough checks by the FBI, but it does not specify how that would differ from the verification already conducted by the agency. The US process for vetting refugees is long and rigorous: It takes anywhere from 18 months to several years, and includes background checks by multiple intelligence agencies, as well as interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers.
Thus far, none of the suspects in last week’s attacks on Paris has been identified as a Syrian refugee—in fact, all were reportedly EU citizens.
Another bill to block refugees–not just from Syria and Iraq, but also Yemen, Somalia, and Libya—was introduced on the Senate floor last night (Nov. 18) by Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas. Called the “Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act,” it would allow only the narrowest exceptions, for the “the severest cases of persecution.”
“After watching the horrific scenes play out in Paris, we have to take basic steps to protect ourselves from the growing threat of radical Islamic terrorism. This legislation will do just that,” Cruz said in a statement sent to Quartz.
Meanwhile, more than half the country’s governors, mostly Republicans and one Democrat, have said they would not allow Syrian refugees to be resettled in their state. One family that was supposed to land in Indiana today was diverted to Connecticut as a result of a last-minute decision from Indiana governor Mike Pence.
The United States admits very few Syrian refugees to begin with, a mere 1,854 over the past three years, compared to the 92,991 that Germany has accepted over the same period, for instance. Following the Paris attacks, France itself confirmed that it would admit 30,000 refugees in the next two years.