Syria Refugees in US: Latino Congressional Lawmakers Split on House Refugee Bill
Two days after its introduction, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would enhance the background investigations for Iraqis and Syrians seeking refuge in the United States.
With 289-137, Rep. Michael McCaul's, R-Texas, "American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015" (H.R. 4038) overwhelmingly advanced to the Senate. But in the House, 47 Democrats also voted in favor of H.R. 4038 despite President Barack Obama's opposition. Several Latino lawmakers also voted for the bill.
All Latino Republican representatives, such as Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, voted in favor of the bill, which requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to "take all actions necessary to ensure that each covered alien receives a background investigation before U.S. refugee admission. "Covered alien" includes a national or resident of Iraq or Syria, has no nationality but their last habitual residence was in either two countries and has been present there on or after March 1, 2011. H.R. 4038 also instructs the DHS to report monthly total numbers of admitted applications.
"I want to ensure our country remains a place of refuge and hope for oppressed people from all over the world, while granting our law enforcement officials the tools they need to properly screen each refugee and keep Americans safe. The ultimate solution for this tragic refugee crisis is to defeat and destroy ISIS and clear the path for new leadership in Syria. On this, our country must lead," said Curbelo.
All but six members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), all comprising Democrats, voted against H.R. 4038.
The five CHC members who voted in favor on the bill are Reps. Jim Costa, Pete Aguilar and Raul Ruiz of California, Filemon Vela and Henry Cuellar of Texas and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the Northern Marina Islands.
In a statement following Thursday's vote, Aguilar said his top priority is the safety and security of the U.S. and its citizens.
As the U.S. accepts Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Aguilar said, "[W]e must implement an additional level of security to guarantee our nation's safety. The added level of security does not diminish our commitment to helping the innocent men, women and children fleeing the grips of Islamic State militants or the Assad regime, rather it strengthens our defense and will enable us to move forward through a safer and more secure process to relocate refugees."
Cuellar also said the U.S. needs "a very tough" screening process for any Syrian seeking refugee, which is why he voted for H.R. 4038.
Ruiz said he voted for the bill because, "I believe that national security and humanitarianism are not mutually exclusive. This legislation does not stop refugees from finding refuge in our nation. It provides a safe haven for refugees and at the same time requires our national security leaders to certify that the existing and stringent refugee verification process will keep us safe."
For House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California, while he agreed about safety as top priority, he also acknowledged that the current security screening process for refugees in the toughest in the world, noting, "that is why so few refugees from Syria have been accepted to date."
"If I believed that this rushed legislation made our toughest of refugee screening systems work better, I would vote for it. But, if this rushed legislation only adds another layer of bureaucracy that makes our screening process look tougher and results in women and children -- who are fleeing the very terrorists we seek to keep out -- being denied safety and shelter, then I must oppose this legislation," Becerra said in a statement.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., opposed H.R. 4038. In her statement, she also recognized the current U.S. screening procedure is "extensive and rigorous," which requires refugees to wait overseas as the process last between 18 to 14 months.
"H.R. 4038 seeks to exploit the understandable fear that some Americans feel by effectively shutting down the refugee resettlement program for Syrian and Iraqi nationals, possibly for years, until a new vetting process is established," said Roybal-Allard. "The passage of this bill will effectively close our doors to people seeking refuge from barbaric attacks like those that were committed in Paris."
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, did not vote.
For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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