Following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, House Republicans are proposing to block federal funding for resettling Syrian refugees until a series of new conditions are met, Foreign Policy has learned.
The growing momentum behind new legislation, still being drafted, sets up a future clash between the White House and Congress as the Obama administration seeks to offer residency to 10,000 Syrian refugees who currently live outside the conflict zone. Currently, 60 million people worldwide have been forced from their homes or are otherwise considered refugees — higher than at any other time in recorded history. An estimated 6 million to 8 million displaced people are still in Syria, and nearly 4 million Syrian refugees are in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon.
The draft legislation, a copy of which was obtained by FP, is backed by Reps. Brian Babin, Lou Barletta, Diane Black, Mo Brooks, Jeff Duncan, John Duncan, Blake Farenthold, Louie Gohmert, Frank Guinta, Gregg Harper, Walter Jones, Steve King, Mike Pompeo, Mark Meadows, and Bill Posey. It would prevent funding for the resettlement of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa until authorities adopt “processes to ensure that refugee and related programs are not able to be co-opted by would-be terrorists.” Once those processes are in place, details of the security checks must be given to Congress in both classified and public forums, and the administration must establish a “longer-term monitoring process” to track refugees in the United States.
The 15 Republican lawmakers pushing the legislation aren’t the only politicians looking to slam the brakes on President Barack Obama’s resettlement program. The governors of 27 U.S. states have already said they would not allow Syrian refugees to live in their states. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has proposed legislation to restrict U.S. funding for refugee resettlement, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has said he will introduce legislation to prevent Syrian refugees from obtaining U.S. visas.
Additionally, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul plans to raise the issue of blocking Syrian refugee resettlement at a Tuesday meeting with fellow Republicans, according to two congressional sources.
In a Monday letter to Obama, McCaul called on the White House to immediately “suspend” the admission of all additional Syrian refugees.
“The high-threat environment demands that we move forward with greater caution in order to protect the American people and to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores,” McCaul wrote.
The rising opposition to assisting Syrian refugees is already alarming humanitarian organizations, which say that doing so defies America’s long tradition of helping individuals fleeing persecution.
“It would be nothing short of reprehensible if Congress cut off funding for the Syrian refugee resettlement program,” Noah Gottschalk, a senior policy advisor at Oxfam, told FP. “The resettlement program for Syrian refugees is incredibly thorough — the layers of screening that are already in place are more than sufficient to ensure we do our duty while keeping the nation safe.”
“It is unfathomable that we would turn our backs now as people face their greatest hour of need,” Gottschalk said.
A senior Obama administration official, speaking to FP on condition of anonymity, said security concerns about incoming refugees were unfounded — in large part because they undergo “the highest level” of scrutiny by the government’s intelligence and security agencies.
“All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security-screening regime,” the official said.
Fears about taking in refugees spiked after a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the assailants in the deadly Paris attacks that killed at least 129 people. Questions remain, however, over the identity of the attacker: French officials on Monday said he used a fake Syrian passport to travel to Europe through Greece and the Balkans. While his actual identity is unknown, the attacker is believed to have posed as a Syrian refugee to enter Europe via the Aegean Sea.
This post has been updated to reflect the growing number of U.S. governors who oppose resettling Syrian refugees in their states.
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