US votes to suspend Syrian refugees

  • 20/11/2015
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says the Syrian refugee bill would be the first of many (Reuters)
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says the Syrian refugee bill would be the first of many (Reuters)

The House of Representatives has voted to ban Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States until stricter screening measures are in place, a move some slammed as giving in to xenophobia after the Paris attacks.

The Republican legislation, the first congressional response to last week's attacks, passed overwhelmingly on Thursday, 289 to 137, with nearly four dozen Democrats bucking their president to support the measure.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Should it pass the upper chamber, the White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the bill.

"Being generous does not mean we have to have a weak process for screening refugees," number two House Republican Kevin McCarthy told the chamber shortly before the bill's passage.

The bill would prevent refugees from Iraq and Syria from reaching US shores until background checks are implemented as part of the screening process for each refugee.

It would also require directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence to personally certify that each new settler would not be a threat to national security.

Such a step, Democrats argue, would be a logistical nightmare for department heads who should be focusing more directly on stopping the Islamic State group and other extremists.

Republicans defend the measure as a necessary, common-sense step after the terror strikes in Paris that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more.

"Today is not the day to share our territory," a sombre Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling told House members.

Democrats took to the House floor to argue that US refugee vetting is already the most stringent in the world, with investigations by several federal agencies taking an average 18 to 24 months.

House Democrat Jerrold Nadler expressed incredulity that politicians would seek to block women, children and seniors fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq from entering the country as refugees.

"We might as well take down the Statue of Liberty," he said.