As Republicans in Congress rush to introduce varying motions on how to stop terrorist refugees or all Syrian refugees, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tried to get a vote on an amendment to the transportation bill that would block public benefits for new refugees from “high-risk” countries.
The Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Act is currently being debated on the Senate floor. Paul’s amendment stipulates that “none of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available under this Act may be used to provide or administer assistance to aliens admitted, on after November 13, 2015, as refugees or asylees under section 1157 or 1158 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1157 and 1158) who were nationals of any of the following countries or territories.”
That’s 34 places: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somali, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories.
“Make no mistake, we have been attacked in the past by refugees or by people posing as refugees,” Paul said in a floor speech on Wednesday. “The two Boston bombers were here as refugees. They didn’t take very kindly to what we gave them — education, food, clothing, and they chose to attack our country.”
The Boston Herald reported that the family of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received about $100,000 in public assistance from 2002 to 2012, including Section 8 housing and food stamps.
Paul added that in Bowling Green, Ky., “we had two Iraqi refugees who came through the refugee program, posing as refugees and then promptly decided to buy stinger missiles” — referring to Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, who supported al-Qaeda and arrived in the United States in 2009 as part of an Iraqi resettlement program. “Fortunately, they got them from an FBI agent and we caught them, but when we caught them, we discovered that their fingerprints were already on bomb fragments in Iraq in our database, and yet we had no clue and admitted them anyway.”
“I think we have an insufficient process for knowing who’s here legally and illegally. There are eleven million people in our country illegally, 40 percent of them have overstayed their visa. Do we know who they are? Do we know where they are? If we extrapolate those statistics to those who are visiting our country from the Middle East, do we know where the 150,000 students are who say they’re going to school in our country from the Middle East? I don’t think we do. I don’t think we should continue adding people to the rolls of those coming from the Middle East until we absolutely know who is in our country and what their intentions are.”
Paul argued his amendment uses the power of the purse to put the brakes on the resettlement program.
“When the poem beneath the Statue of Liberty says give me your tired, give me your poor, it didn’t say come to our country and we’ll put you on welfare,” the senator continued. “In those days, you came for opportunity. Many Christian churches have supported refugees. My church has supported refugees coming here. That’s charity. But when you put them on welfare, that is not charity.”
Today he unsuccessfully called for unanimous consent to bring forward the amendment.
“I have an amendment that is not only pertinent to the biggest issue of the day, I have an amendment that is germane for those who make a mockery of this process by saying we’re going to have regular order,” Paul said after Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) called for a parliamentary inquiry.
On Wednesday, another GOP presidential contender introduced legislation to “immediately bar” refugees from any country “that contains territory substantially controlled by a foreign terrorist organization.”
Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act of 2015 lists Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen as countries from which no refugees would be allowed, and the State Department would have the power to add additional designations.
The only exception would be a refugee who can prove “clearly and beyond doubt” that he or she satisfies the requirements for refugee status and is a member of a group that has been designated as a victim of genocide by the State Department or an act of Congress. In that case, the refugee could be admitted after extensive security checks.
“Unlike some regional jihadists, ISIS represents a direct and growing threat to our citizens, and increasingly to our homeland itself,” Cruz said. “Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has clearly lacked focus on national security interests.”
Cruz requested unanimous consent today on that bill and an older piece of legislation, the Expatriate Terrorist Act, which would revoke the citizenship of any American who goes to join ISIS. Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) blocked the bills.
“I would note that the Expatriate Terrorist Act is very, very similar to legislation that was introduced in 2010 by Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Scott Brown, both of whom apparently under the senator from Vermont’s view are un-American as well,” Cruz needled Leahy.
Leahy slammed the refugee bill as coming “from a place of fear and hatred.”
“I don’t want to stand by quietly and see the victims of terrorism and torture be demonized just so people will have a talking point for local evening news. We are better than this,” Leahy said. “The bill that my colleague, the junior senator from Texas, introduced an hour ago would prevent virtually all nationals of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen from refugee protection regardless of how they suffered at the hands of terrorists and despots. Women fleeing gang rapes, children fleeing horrors we cannot even imagine, they would be closed off.”
More legislation comes from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who introduced the Syrian Refugee and Verification Act to stop resettlement until a stricter screening process is put in place with oversight from the inspector general from the intelligence community.
“The Paris attacks clearly show that we absolutely cannot allow lax policies that enable dangerous people to walk our streets freely,” Vitter said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Moreover, it is paramount that in our effort to provide necessary assistance that we remember a majority of the 9/11 attackers were granted admission to the United States on a temporary immigration status.”
“As an example of the U.S. Department of State’s extreme reckless disregard for national security and public safety, in the state of Louisiana, our own governor was unaware of the fact that the U.S. Department of State had transferred 14 immigrants to live among the people of Louisiana.”
In a floor speech this morning, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ripped “the latest in what has become a disturbing pattern of Republican hatred and intolerance towards Muslims from the Republican Party.”
“Some in the Republican Party have suggested that we categorically block all Syrian refugees. One Republican candidate for president suggested that we should even turn away 5-year-old Syrian orphans. Two other Republican candidates for president implied that the United States of America should have some sort of religious test for refugees. They’re saying – ‘only Christians,'” Reid said.
“The Department of Homeland Security has verified that not one of the 1,800 Syrian refugees already admitted into the United States has a single confirmed tie to terrorism. To deny our moral obligation to these struggling people would be to abandon our principles… Our government accepts only the most vulnerable of the Syrians – survivors of violence and torture, those with severe medical conditions, and women and children. But security precautions are not taking a backseat in the process.”
Today the House passed 289-137 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.
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) slammed the bill as something antithetical to American values that was rushed to the floor. “Rather than slamming our doors to the world’s most vulnerable, we should be considering legislation to strengthen and expand refugee programs,” he said.
An example, Conyers said, is the Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015 that he co-sponsored with GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Tom Rooney (Fla.) in March. That would allow persecuted groups including religious and ethnic minorities and those facing gender-based violence to apply directly to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
But Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) told MSNBC this morning that she would vote for the SAFE Act along with “many of my Democratic colleagues” because “our first and foremost concern is the safety of the American people and doing the right thing.”
Forty-seven Dems ended up crossing the aisle to vote for the bill.
“If you’ve got a situation where you have an orphan or a child or a single mom who is bringing her kids, the most vulnerable in these refugee populations, as they go through this vetting process, you can imagine they would probably be vetted very easily and would be certified and would be able to come here through the refugee program,” she said.
Next up, Gabbard stressed, should be the visa waiver program.
“If you have got a jihadist who has a European passport, you have so many foreign fighters traveling untrackable back and forth between European countries and Syria through the open borders with Turkey, if they want to come here and attack the United States, all they’ve got to do is jump on a plane and come here and they would be here within hours without actually having to apply for a visa through this visa waiver program,” the congresswoman and Iraq war veteran said. “This is a huge vulnerability that, unfortunately, hardly anyone is talking about and has yet to be addressed seriously.”
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation today to exclude from the visa waiver program any European who has visited Iraq or Syria in the past five years.