After a collective panic over refugees this year, Obama’s announcement that he would increase the number of refugees admitted into the country in 2017 could have been expected to set of a new round of fear mongering.
But some Republicans on Capitol Hill – whether it is because the daily horrors of ISIS have subsided or they are confident Obama won’t actually have a say over refugee resettlement when he leaves office– have been much more muted even with an election less than two months away.
President Barack Obama is urging the United States to accept 110,000 new refugees in 2017, a marked increase over the previous years.
But with Obama’s time in office quickly coming to a close and the future of the White House hanging in the balance, Republicans in Congress are divided over what the U.S.’s commitment to resettling refugees should be with the next administration.
Every year, the president sets a target of how many refugees the U.S. should accept. The number isn’t a cap, merely a goal, but it has long served as a marker for where the U.S. hopes to be at the end of each fiscal year. A year ago– before terror attacks in Europe and in the U.S. spurred fears about the U.S.’s ability to properly vet refugees–there was increased pressure for the Obama administration to accept thousands more Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees, however, are still just a fraction of the total refugees the U.S. accepts.
But the Republican Party seems to be as divided as ever on refugees. In one corner, the Republican nominee Donald Trump has set the tone that refugees are to be feared. Republican governors across the country have fought to block Syrian refugees from being settled in their states.Trump has called for a halting of all refugees coming from terrorist-threatened countries. Republicans like Jeff Sessions (R-AL) blasted the Obama administration Wednesday, calling increasing the number of refugees “reckless” and “extreme.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told TPM that inviting more refugees into the U.S. was politically correct “lunacy.”
“The head of the FBI, appointed by President Obama, told Congress that the FBI cannot vet the Syrian refugees who are coming to the United States to determine whether or not they are ISIS terrorists, whether or not they intend to wage jihad in an attempt to murder innocent Americans,” Cruz said. “It is lunacy, politically correct lunacy for President Obama and Hillary Clinton to support bringing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into this country when the FBI cannot ensure that those refugees are not terrorists.”
But many other Republicans in the Senate say that inviting more refugees into the United States isn’t a problem as long as the refugees are being properly vetted.
“My position has been that I just hope they are well vetted before they are brought over,” said Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told TPM that he was “probably accepting” of the Obama administration’s new goal to increase the number of refugees it resettled.
“I sure hope that we check people out. Our country is a great country. We can absorb good people, and there are some really tragic situations out there,” Hatch said.
On Capitol Hill, what to do about Syrian refugees has more than once been at the center of intense debate. While the Obama administration does get to choose how many refugees the country takes in, Republicans and Democrats in the House have tried to increase the amount of vetting for refugees from Syria.
Right after the November terrorist attack in Paris, the House –with the help of a nearly 50 Democrats– passed legislation that would have increased screenings – which often take more than a year already. The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill arguing that the legislation was so restrictive that it would essentially halt the U.S.’s ability to actually admit Syrian refugees in the U.S. at all.
Then in the funding fight last winter, some conservatives argued that blocking money for Obama to resettle refugees was yet another way the Congress could try to stop Obama’s Syrian refugee resettlement.
The reality is that even as the Obama administration has set a goal to resettle more refugees, Obama himself won’t be in office to oversee it.
“He can set a goal, but he’s leaving,” Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told TPM. “He’s laying a marker down, but whoever the next president is, will have far more to do with how many refugees come into our country than him.”
It is very possible– given what Trump has said about refugees from war torn nations– that America’s policy toward refugee resettlement will be dramatically reoriented under Trump’s vision if he’s elected.