Jeb Bush has found another issue that places him at odds with fellow party members: Syrian refugees. The 2016 presidential candidate said that we should not block Syrian refugees from entering the country, despite grave security concerns over the screening process–a process that the FBI said makes it virtually impossible for them to clear every Syrian refugee of terrorist ties coming into the United States. We already have accepted at least 2,174 of the projected 10,000 refugees into the country (via the Hill)
In a Tuesday interview with Bloomberg Politics, Bush said he has concerns with whether the Obama administration is capable of pulling off its plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country over the next year, but that the appropriate response isn’t a full-scale ban on refugees from troubled Middle Eastern countries.
“I think people are legitimately concerned about the efficiency, the competency of the Obama administration, as it relates to screening processes,” Bush said. “But we have systems in place — if there is any kind of concern, we shouldn’t allow people in. But I don’t think we should eliminate support for refugees. It’s been a noble tradition in our country for many years.”
The House is expected to vote this week on a bill that would temporarily halt Obama’s plan to allow the refugees into the U.S.
Two Republican senators running for president, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), say they plan to put forth bills aimed at stopping the flow of refugees.
Cruz’s bill would ban all Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the country.
Bush, also a Republican presidential candidate, said Tuesday that’s not the appropriate response.
“I don’t [agree],” he said. “The answer to this … is not to ban people from coming. The answer is to lead to resolve the problem in Syria. That’s the ultimate answer and that’s my focus.”
While Bush is not opposed to allowing some Muslim refugees in the country, he has called on the U.S. to single out Christians in Syria for special assistance, and has said the U.S. should look to create a safe haven for refugees abroad rather than bringing them all here.
Placing a hold on the flow of refugees into the United States also isn’t a partisan issue. Some Democratic heavyweights have agreed that a halt might be necessary for national security purposes, like future Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (via WaPo):
Here's what Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Democrats' No. 3 and the Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting, said on Tuesday afternoon
Schumer: A "pause" on refugees may be necessary. Waiting to see what admin tells senators tmw in classified briefing.— Susan Davis (@DaviSusan) November 17, 2015
Longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, warned in a statement Tuesday "we need to be very careful about Syrian refugee admissions."
The Hill reports that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) signed a letter to President Obama calling on him to not allow any more Syrians into the country "unless federal authorities can guarantee with 100 percent assurance they are not connected" to the Islamic State.
The Washington Post added that current Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “‘my personal feelings are I’m going to wait till tomorrow," he told reporters, referring to a briefing on how the process works scheduled for Wednesday. "I don’t think at this stage we should be pausing until we get the facts.’ ---- That's not exactly saying no.”
As for Cruz’s position that would ban Muslim Syrian refugees, the House bill set for a vote on Thursday is solely grounded in keeping the country safe from terrorists. Speaker Ryan made that clear on the floor.
“I don’t think it’s asking too much. I also want to point out that we will not have a religious test. Only a security test,” he said.
Nevertheless, pro-refugee groups are trying to combat a growing narrative that all of Syrians entering the country pose a national security threat. Governors from 31 states have refused to help with relocation efforts, citing such concerns (via Roll Call):
“This is unprecedented, really,” Kevin Appleby, director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CQ Roll Call Monday.
“Up until this past weekend, we even had politicians reaching out to say, ‘How can we resettle refugees?’ Members of both parties. Of both chambers,” Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Services, told CQ Roll Call Tuesday.
“To be fairly honest, we are in emergency mode,” said Smyers, who fills that role for Church World Services in Washington, D.C.
In the days and weeks ahead, the groups will be trying to get ahead of the calls for a “pause” in Syrian refugee resettlement with their own informational offensive.
“We’ve been in constant conversations with folks on the Hill who have questions about security screenings. [We] provide background about how rigorous those screenings are and help alleviate fears,” Smyers said, noting that her organization has spoken with lawmakers from both parties since the Paris attacks.
Education is perhaps the primary tool at these organizations’ disposal.
“I think what we’re trying to do is lift up the stories of Syrian refugees who have already settled here in the United States,” said Will Haney, associate director of external affairs for the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Services.