Senate to consider suspending Syrian refugee program

Story highlights

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday a vote on whether to begin debate on the bill will take place next Wednesday
  • A similar bill easily passed in the House in November

Washington (CNN)Amid heightened concerns about the threat of terrorism from refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, the Senate next week will consider whether to suspend a controversial program allowing refugees from those countries into the U.S. that drew scrutiny after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday a vote on whether to begin debate on the bill will take place next Wednesday. Sixty votes will be needed for it to advance to a vote and the outcome is uncertain, according to leadership aides in both parties.
Despite criticism from the White House about the proposal when the House voted on it in November, 47 House Democrats supported it. The American SAFE Act easily passed 289-137.
Since then, ISIS sympathizers carried out a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, and last week in separate cases in Texas and California, two Iraqi refugees were arrested on terrorism charges. Those incidents could put pressure on Senate Democrats, who are otherwise sympathetic to plight of the refugees, to back the measure.
When the House voted, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid dismissed complaints about the U.S.'s ability to screen the refugees -- arguing many were children or elderly and in desperate need of help -- and suggested his caucus would stand firmly against the proposal and block it.
"The problem is not with the refugees," Reid said. "I don't think we will be dealing with it over here."
The bill requires the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence all to certify that a refugee from Syria or Iraq -- or a refugee who has visited one of those countries in the last five years -- is not a security threat and can be admitted to the U.S.
Many Republican lawmakers grew concerned about the refugee program after the Paris attacks and reports that one of the attackers migrated from Syria as part of the wave of immigrants fleeing the war-torn country for Europe.
"We face complex and growing threats from Islamic extremism and we must remain vigilant. This bill is a critical step to avoid another deadly catastrophe here at home," said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, a sponsor of the bill, in a statement after McConnell announced the Senate would act on it.