WASHINGTON – Three federal agencies would have to certify that Syrian and Iraqi refugees aren’t security threats before they are allowed into the United States under a bill approved Thursday by the House.
On a 289-137 vote, the House voted to require the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and director of National Intelligence collectively certify that those seeking refuge in the country don’t pose a threat to national security.
“We must ensure that we do not allow terrorists to exploit refugee resettlement to gain entry to the United States,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said in a statement.
Security officials told Congress they don’t have the needed intelligence to properly vet refugees, and the refugee program should be placed on hold until the country is sure it can keep its people safe, she said.
“If our law enforcement and our intelligence community cannot verify that each and every person is not a security threat, then they shouldn’t be allowed in,” Speaker Paul Ryan said. “We cannot and we should not wait to act.”
House Republicans from Washington and Idaho voted for the bill, but Washington Democrats voted against changes to the current system, calling them a rash reaction.
“We cannot let fear cloud our judgment, drive policy or destroy the fabric of what America stands for,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said. “If we turn our backs on refugees, then we risk making ISIS stronger.”
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republicans back the bill but Democrats are divided. President Obama said earlier this week he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
The bill would “provide no meaningful additional security for the American people” and effectively end the refugee program, Obama said, adding the vetting process already often takes more than a year.
But unless changes are made, some Republicans have threatened to block a spending bill, which Congress must pass by Dec. 11 to keep the government open, if it doesn’t include a provision to stop the refugee program.
Obama plans to let 10,000 Syrian refugees enter the country during the next year. A majority of governors oppose the plan, including Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, though Washington Gov. Jay Inslee supports the decision.
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