Obama threatens to veto GOP halt on Syrian refugees

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a face after answering a question about U.S. politicians opposed to taking in Syrian refugees as he delivers remarks after meeting with the Philippines President Benigno Aquino alongside the APEC summit in Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2015. © Jonathan Ernst
Tensions rose between the Republican lawmakers and US President Barack Obama when the White House threatened to veto a GOP-proposed bill requiring additional background checks for 10,000 Syrian refugees that Obama intends to settle in the US.

Sponsored by Representatives Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Richard Hudson (R-North Carolina), the bill would require top US security officials to certify that every refugee admitted to the US “does not represent a security threat,” according to McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The bill, which is up for a vote Thursday, is a direct response to last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left at least 132 dead and 352 injured. One of the attackers had entered Europe as a refugee in October, according to the Syrian passport found near his body, French authorities said.

A statement from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday condemned the McCaul-Hudson bill as “untenable,” arguing that it would “provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles” for refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

“This legislation would introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism,” the statement said.

President Obama is currently visiting the Philippines, but his Twitter account was very active on Wednesday, arguing that admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees would be the right thing to do and that turning them away would betray America’s “deepest values.”

Governors of 31 US states have come out against the settlement of Syrian refugees in their jurisdictions, citing security concerns. All save one are Republicans. A Syrian family scheduled to arrive in Indiana was redirected to Connecticut on Wednesday after the state asked non-governmental organizations handling the resettlement to suspend or redirect all Syrian arrivals “until assurances that proper security measures are in place have been provided by the federal government.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has called for a “pause” in refugee settlements until the arrivals can be properly vetted for security risks.

“People understand the plight of those fleeing the Middle East. But they also want basic assurances for the safety of this country,” Ryan said in a speech on the House floor Wednesday, according to The Hill. “We can be compassionate and we can also be safe.”

The tug of war between Obama and Republican governors and lawmakers comes as five Syrian nationals were arrested in Honduras after attempting to enter the country with stolen Greek passports. The men had flown in from Costa Rica and were allegedly on their way to the US, Honduran officials told reporters. Another Syrian was stopped last Friday and sent back to El Salvador.

State and even local officials around the US have weighed in on the refugee issue as well. In Tennessee, state House GOP Caucus chairman Glen Casada said the state should activate the National Guard to round up resident Syrian refugees and stop new ones from coming in.

“Tennessee is a sovereign state. If the federal government is forsaking the obligation to protect our citizens, we need to act,” Casada told The Tennessean on Tuesday.

Roanoke, Virginia Mayor Davis Bowers also publicly opposes taking in Syrian refugees. His reference to the World War II era internment of Japanese-Americans has caused a storm of condemnation in social media, and got Bowers – a Democrat – dropped from the Virginia committee of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, reported the Washington Post. 

Under the US Constitution, the power to create immigration policy is designated solely to the federal executive, and there is little that states or local authorities can do about it, human and labor rights lawyer Dan Kovalik told RT.

“The President has authority to take in refugees, so, this argument about the states not wanting refugees etc. – that is just political posturing,” Kovalik said.