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Ryan: Bill to Strengthen Refugee Screening 'Will Not Have a Religious Test'

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) vowed that legislation introduced by the House Homeland Security Committee chairman to secure the refugee process “will not have a religious test, only a security test.”

The bill from Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) — the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015 — says that no refugee from Iraq or Syria will be admitted into the U.S. unless the FBI director “certifies the background investigation of each refugee” and the secretary of Homeland Security, along with the FBI director and the Director of National Intelligence, “certifies to Congress that each refugee is not a security threat to the United States.”

The DHS inspector general would also be required to independently assess the refugee approvals.

“America has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees into our country, and we lead the world in humanitarian assistance. However, we also must put proper measures in place to ensure our country’s safety,” McCaul said Tuesday, noting that he’d sent a letter to President Obama on Monday “calling for a temporary suspension of Syrian refugee admissions until a full review of the resettlement program, including vetting security risks, could be completed.”

“It is apparent that the President will ignore these concerns, making this legislation necessary to toughen security measures in order to keep terrorists from infiltrating America disguised as refugees,” the chairman added. “We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with our national security.”

In his first speaker’s minute since taking the gavel, Ryan stressed on the House floor that “the country is uneasy and unsettled — and they have every right to be.”

“Not because of what they’re hearing from politicians, but what they’ve seen with their own eyes. All of us here—Republicans and Democrats—are hearing these concerns in our offices. People understand the plight of those fleeing the Middle East. But they also want basic assurances for the safety of this country,” Ryan said. “We are a compassionate nation. We always have been, and we always will be. But we also must remember that our first priority is to protect the American people. We can be compassionate, and we can also be safe.”

“If the intelligence and law enforcement community cannot certify that a person presents no threat, then they should not be allowed in. This is common sense. And it’s our obligation.”

The House Rules Committee was meeting this afternoon to push McCaul’s bill to the House floor on Thursday.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim members of Congress, told MSNBC that he doesn’t think the bill is necessary. “I think what we need is to use the law that we have that has been successful and what we need to do is, if we need to, you know, strengthen it, we can do that. But we don’t need a new law,” he said.

“I think it is important that the Speaker said there would be no religious test,” Ellison added. “He’s right to say so and I’m glad he said it.”