Senators Seek to Pause Entry of Syrians Into U.S. Following Attacks

Rand Paul bill would halt entry until screening procedures are enhanced

Syria refugee
Refugees from Syria and Iraq disembark on the Greek island of Lesbos after arriving with other 120 people on a wooden boat from the Turkish coast / AP
November 16, 2015

Senators are calling on the Obama administration to halt the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States, with one lawmaker filing legislation on Monday that would stop the Obama administration from providing visas to citizens of any country deemed "a high risk of terrorism" by the Department of Homeland Security.

The legislation comes on the heels of a massive terrorist attack in France that killed upwards of 120 people and has led officials on both continents to express concern about the failure to properly vet foreign refugees, particularly ones from Syria.

The bill, proposed Monday by Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), would implement a mandatory "waiting period" for visas and require more thorough background checks on those individuals seeking asylum in the United States, according to information provided by the senator’s office. The legislation would also suspend the issuance of visas to individuals from countries with "a high risk of terrorism."

The Obama administration would be forced to fingerprint all aliens from high-risk countries and screen them to ensure they pose no terrorism risk. It also would ensure that these individuals are "monitored for terrorist activity."

The legislation comes amid intelligence indicating that the Islamic State is seeking to wage attacks on America and other Western countries.

In addition to other "enhanced security measures," Paul’s bill would mandate a 30-day waiting period on all individuals seeking entry into the United States. During this time, background checks would be conducted.

"The time has come to stop terrorists from walking in our front door," Paul said in a statement Monday. "The Boston Marathon bombers were refugees, and numerous refugees from Iraq, including some living in my hometown, have attempted to commit terrorist attacks."

"The terrorist attacks in Paris underscore this concern that I have been working to address for the past several years," Paul said. "My bill will press pause on new refugee entrants from high-risk countries until stringent new screening procedures are in place."

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) issued similar calls in the wake of the attacks in France.

"The one thing I’ve learned from Paris is that we need to have a timeout on bringing refugees into this country until we have a system that we think will work," Graham said in a statement on Monday." So I’m calling for a timeout on Syrian refugees."

These lawmakers fear that militants affiliated with the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks in France, could use gaps in established security protocols to slip into America.

One of the accused attackers in France was found to have been using a Syrian passport and reportedly obtained refugee status in Europe among a wave of immigrants. The document allowed the terrorist to freely travel to multiple European countries before settling in France, where he blew himself up on Friday.

"In light of the attacks in Paris, I call on the Obama administration to put a pause in accepting Syrians as refugees into the United States until Congress can review and conduct appropriate oversight of the State Department’s vetting process," Inhofe said in a statement issued on Monday.

"Accepting refugees is an important and historical practice of our nation, but the Syrian refugee situation is atypical due to ISIS’s attempts to exploit the crisis and concerns over the validity of Syrian passports," Inhofe said. "We saw this danger first hand with Ahmad Al Mohammad who participated in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and whose passport and fingerprints matched a person who passed through Greece as a Syrian refugee."

The attacks have sparked a fierce debate in Europe about the country’s passport-free zones and efforts by many nations to facilitate the entrance of Syrian immigrants.

At least 13 U.S. governors have already begun making moves to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into their states.

They will refuse to allow refugees permitted into the United States under President Barack Obama's orders to allow up to 10,000 Syrians into America.

One of the governors, Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner, said the Paris attacks are a reminder of the threat facing America.

"Our nation and our state have a shared history of providing safe haven for those displaced by conflict, but the news surrounding the Paris terror attacks reminds us of the all-too-real security threats facing America," Rauner said."We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens. Therefore, the state of Illinois will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."