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House Republicans Want To Strip Power Over Refugees From Obama

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Elise Foley
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WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are trying once more to restrict the resettlement of refugees in the United States, by stripping power to set admission numbers from the president and by allowing states and localities to ban those vulnerable individuals from their communities.

The House Judiciary Committee approved this latest anti-refugee bill -- introduced only two days before it was considered by the panel -- on Wednesday. Now it moves to the full chamber for consideration.

The new legislation follows months of efforts to limit refugee resettlement, particularly of Syrians and Iraqis, who were singled out in another bill that passed the House last year. Although the current bill doesn't call for a ban on Muslims, as has been proposed by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, it aligns with his arguments against Syrian refugees: that they could be dangerous and that states should be able to keep them out.

One Republican on the Judiciary Committee went so far as to claim that President Barack Obama might "be vindictive" and send 10,000 Syrian refugees to the very states and counties that objected to taking them in.

"This makes certain that you could have at least four years where a president cannot double, triple, quadruple the number as punishment and send them to you," Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said of his amendment to increase the period of time that refugees would be banned from a locality after its officials or legislature expressed their disapproval.

That amendment was rejected, although no other Republican stepped up to dispute his argument about Obama.

The House bill would disallow resettlement of "any refugee" in a particular state for one fiscal year after the governor, state legislature, top local official or local legislature formally expressed disapproval.

Officials in more than half of the states announced last fall that they did not want Syrian refugees to be sent their way, and Texas even sued to block such refugees. Thus far the states lack the power to actually do so.

"Considering the terrorist threats facing our nation, we have a right to be concerned about resettlement of refugees from countries that are hotbeds of terrorist activity. ... Essentially ignoring the pleas of communities across the U.S. and leaving refugee resettlement decisions to the administration is no longer a viable option," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

The legislation would set a cap on total refugee admissions at 60,000 individuals -- 25,000 fewer than Obama proposed for this fiscal year -- which could be changed only with Congress' approval. It would also recommend that those who are in the religious minority in certain countries be prioritized for resettlement.

Democrats argued that the legislation plays off the public's fears and could have a devastating effect on vulnerable individuals.

It appears to be crafted to exclude Muslims from Middle Eastern countries. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)

Previous proposals to prioritize religious minorities were opposed by Christian- and Jewish-affiliated faith groups on the grounds that they could be discriminatory. Religious persecution is already taken into consideration -- and Democrats and advocates agree that it should be -- but no one category of persecuted individuals is placed above others when the U.S. government admits refugees.

Republicans denied that keeping out Muslims specifically was a goal. As bill sponsor Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) noted, Muslims are the minority in some of the countries to which the provision would apply, such as Burma.

But Muslims from the Middle East currently make up a huge proportion of the world's refugees, and prioritizing religious minorities right now would reduce their chances of reaching the U.S.

"We would de-prioritize Iraqis and Afghanis who supported U.S. armed services. A woman fleeing sex enslavement by Boko Haram or female genital mutilation would likely be passed over," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said at the committee meeting on Wednesday. "A political dissident in North Korea would find no refuge in America because he's not a religious minority."

"It appears to be crafted to exclude Muslims from Middle Eastern countries," Lofgren added.

The bill would also increase requirements for refugees to remain in the U.S., mandating that they undergo regular security screenings until they become legal permanent residents.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, said the measure "stigmatizes refugees as potential criminals."

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