(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2017 (H.R. 2826), which would drastically reform the United States’ refugee program. The bill aims to implement additional security measures and give more authority to Congress and states to determine refugee policy.
“To be clear, we support America’s refugee program. But it needs to be modernized to keep pace with the security challenges of today’s world,” the two representatives wrote in a Washington Times op-ed.
Most notably, the legislation would shift power to determine how many refugees are allowed into the United States from the President to Congress. The act would reduce the refugee ceiling to 50,000 annually, the number proposed by President Trump. President Obama’s target for refugee resettlement in the United States was 110,000, the highest number since 1995.
The bill would also prevent resettlement of refugees in any state or locality which takes legislative or executive action against resettlement.
“Under current law the American people have little say about the refugee program since their elected representatives have little authority over the number of refugees admitted into the country, or where they are resettled,” the representatives said in the op-ed. “When concerns about the lack of vetting for Syrian refugees erupted in 2015, over half of America’s governors opposed letting them into their states.”
The bulk of the bill is made up of new measures intended to “modernize” the vetting process in the interest of national security, including a fraudulent document detection program, and a requirement for federal officers to review social media postings.
According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there are 300 refugees that are subjects of FBI terrorism investigations.
In September 2016, the Cato Institute found in a policy analysis that no refugees since 1980 committed an act of terror in the United States. After that report came out, Somali refugee Dahir Adan stabbed and injured nine people in a Minnesota mall. In November 2016, Somali refugee Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove his car into a crowd at The Ohio State University, injuring 13 people.
Other recent domestic attacks perpetrated by individuals with close connections to people fleeing dangerous areas have lawmakers and the general public on high alert.
Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev arrived in the United States at 8 years old after their parents were granted political asylum, fleeing war-torn Chechnya, just north of Georgia. Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who detonated bombs in New Jersey and New York City, came to the United States from Afghanistan after his father was granted political asylum in the United States. Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen is the son of an Afghan refugee.
Reps. Labrador and Goodlatte cited two other examples of refugees arrested on federal terrorism charges before they succeed in perpetrating a terrorist attack in their Washington Times op-ed.
Heightened interest and concern about refugees is bringing to light other legal issues around refugee vetting.
In March, two Iraqi refugees living in Northern Virginia were arrested after the FBI found out that they withhold information that one of their brothers was involved in kidnapping an American contractor in Iraq in 2004. One of the brothers said that he knew he would not be allowed into the United States if the government knew about any immediate family member with a criminal background.
Labrador introduced a nearly identical bill in 2016, but that version didn’t make it out of committee.
In 2016, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and 233 other organizations signed on to a letter strongly opposing the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016. The letter said the act is “potentially an unconstitutional delegation of federal power, creating a patchwork of refugee policies across the country.”
“This outcome would be detrimental both to refugees’ successful integration and to communities receiving them,” said the letter.
The libertarian Cato Institute opposes this year’s version of the legislation.
“The legislation adopts a flawed approach to refugee resettlement based on a fundamentally flawed premise: that refugees pose a significant threat to the lives of Americans,” said immigration policy analyst David Bier in a June 14, 2017 statement. “The facts cannot sustain the belief that widespread fraud has allowed the admission of large numbers of refugee terrorists.”
During the bill’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on June 21, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) expressed her opposition to the bill.
“We know that from sacred texts, of which so many members profess, that nations will be judged by how they treat the most vulnerable — the widow, the orphan, the refugee — during trying times,” she said.