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Senate Democrats Block Bill To Suspend Refugee Program, Tighten Screening Procedures

| by Kathryn Schroeder
Sen. Harry ReidSen. Harry Reid

The Senate has voted against a bill that would have suspended the refugee program for Syrians and Iraqis until the screening procedures were tightened.

Every Republican Senator voted in favor of the bill on Jan. 20, including GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Reuters reports. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was not present for the vote.

Only two Democratic Senators gave their support, for a final vote of 55-43. Sixty ‘yes’ votes were needed to advance the measure.

The bill, which passed the House in November 2015, would have stopped the admission of refugees into the United States until new screening procedures were put in place, including the requirement for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence to certify that a refugee is not a threat before they may be admitted to the country.

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The bill specifically applied to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Republicans said the new screening system was needed to ensure the safety of Americans and prevent terrorist attacks from the Islamic State  (ISIS) and other militant groups. They contend that the record keeping of countries like Syria and Iraq is not strong enough to effectively vet immigrants.

“By blocking this measure, Senate Democrats are making it that much harder for us to keep Americans safe,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said in a statement, according to The New York Times. “Their vote is irresponsible in a time of grave threats. Even the administration’s top law enforcement officials say there are gaps in our refugee program that terrorists can exploit.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, however, said the bill was tied to the proposal to ban Muslims from the U.S. by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. 

"This bill is just another step in the absolute wrong direction, the direction of Donald Trump," Reid said before the vote, according to the Associated Press. "The Democrats are committed to opposing the hateful views of Trump and his Republican enablers."

The bill, Reid added, ”scapegoats refugees who are fleeing war and torture instead of creating real solutions to keep Americans safe."

Ryan said the bill is not a religious test but a security one.

"This reflects our values," Ryan said. "This reflects our responsibilities."

According to information obtained by Reuters, it currently takes 18 to 24 months for Syrian refugee screenings to be completed.

Sources: The New York TimesReuters, AP via Yahoo News / Photo Source: Center for American Progress/Flickr, Tony Alter/Flickr