November 20, 2015

NM House delegation split on Syria bill

Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

The U.S. House passed a bill that critics say would severely hobble the program of allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country—with enough votes to override a threatened veto by President Barack Obama.

Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

Democrats in the Senate, however, have vowed that it will not pass that chamber.

The legislation would require an FBI background check on each potential refugee. It would also require the heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence to personally sign off on each refugee from Syria and Iraq.

Those supporting the bill have said that it is necessary, in light of the recent terror attacks in Paris, to ensure no terrorists are included among those seeking refugee status in the United States.

Opponents of the bill say that the current process, which already takes 18-24 months to complete, is sufficient. They point to the fact that none of those involved in the Paris attacks were from Syria or Iraq.

Steve Pearce falls into the first camp, and voted for the legislation. Pearce is the lone Republican in the New Mexico delegation.

“While not perfect, it is a needed step to make certain our nation’s values and security are appropriately balanced,” Pearce said.

“Our founders built a nation around faith, freedom, and compassion. Over time, these values have established the very bedrock of what it means to be an American,” Pearce said in his statement. “They have been seen time and again as a beacon of hope, which for centuries, people have sought to escape persecution, harm, and danger. The same is true today. These are values we must never forget or relinquish, but we also have a responsibility to all our citizens, and all those looking for safe harbor, to protect our shores.”

Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham each directly addressed the bill they voted against. Both are Democrats.

Luján said the bill “tries to close the door on an entire group of people based solely on their country of origin, shuts out vulnerable women and children trying to escape the brutality and violence of ISIL.”

“t is important to remember that refugees from Syria who are fleeing the deadly violence of ISIL will be subjected to the strictest level of scrutiny, and many of them will be turned away because they cannot be fully vetted,” Luján said of the current process. “Of the 23,000 refugees who have been referred for review from the United Nations, only 2,000 have been granted access, half of whom are children.  Moving forward, we must work together to use all of our tools to defeat ISIL and the extremism it fuels.”

Lujan Grisham also criticized the legislation.

“I would have welcomed the opportunity to vote for legislation that enhances our ability to find and bring ISIS terrorists to justice, assist the intelligence community to thoroughly vet Syrian refugees fleeing the Middle East, and help prevent another Paris-like terrorist attack,” she said. “Unfortunately, the bill considered today would do none of the above.”

“Congress must do everything in its power to protect our nation’s security, and we must have the strongest screening protocol in the world,” Lujan Grisham said. “That is why I support the Secure Refugee Process Act, which ensures that no refugee would be admitted if the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the intelligence community find insufficient, conflicting, or unreliable information.  Unlike the bill today, the Secure Refugee Process Act would apply to all nationalities.”