WASHINGTON, D.C. — New Hampshire’s two representatives in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, and Rep. Frank Guinta, R-NH, were among 289 members of Congress who voted Thursday in favor of passing HR 4038, also known as the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, a measure that would, in effect, “pause” the program that allows for resettlement of refugees.
The House bill would require the FBI to create a background check of any refugee who spent time in Syria or Iraq after March 1, 2011 and includes a series of checks, balances and time tables (see text of bill below.)
The measure passed by a vote of 289 to 137 (click here for the roll call vote.)
Following the vote Thursday, the U.S. State Department said it was “willing to work” with Congress on changes to the Visa waiver program that currently allows nearly 20 million people from 38 countries to the U.S. each year.
“In light of the Paris attacks, we are certainly mindful that there are certain members of Congress that want to take another look at this,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “We’re aware of some potential legislation coming. We’re going to continue to work with members of Congress on that, and any other concern they have.”
Last year fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees were accepted into the U.S. In September President Obama revised the number of Syrian refugees allowed in the U.S. due to the growing humanitarian crisis there, saying as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees could be admitted to the U.S. during FY 2016, which began in October.
A statement posted Thursday on WhiteHouse.gov outlined the administration’s current strategies in place to defeat ISIS, which says that the U.S. government has for more than a year now, “executed a comprehensive and sustained strategy to defeat ISIL,” building a global coalition of 65 partners working together to “degrade and destroy ISIL.”
“In the last week, we have taken strikes against notorious ISIL operative Mohammed Emwazi, aka ‘Jihadi John, and Abu Nabil, the leader of ISIL in Libya. A terrorist group like ISIL won’t be defeated by a single strike, but these operations should be a clear warning to ISIL that we will go after their leadership and networks throughout the world,” the statement reads.
Both of New Hampshire’s representatives in Washington, despite their political differences, agree on this matter.
In a letter issued Nov. 16 in anticipation of Thursday’s vote, Guinta wrote:
“We’re the most generous people in the world, giving billions in support of freedom and democracy and aid to refugees,” said the House Financial Services Committee member, “but President Obama has demonstrated a dangerous lack of understanding about the true nature and aims of ISIS. The terrorist army occupies large parts of the Middle East and has stated the intention to kill Americans where we live.”
“A president who cannot define radical Islam cannot possibly vet thousands of refugees for radical Islamists,” said Rep. Guinta, pointing out the Administration’s refusal to employ the term or to speculate about perpetrators of the Paris attacks, despite available evidence.
Kuster also issued a statement on Nov. 16 that read in part:
“I am fiercely protective of our national security and believe we must be tough and smart in pursuing policies that protect Americans both at home and abroad. America stands with our French allies as they bring the perpetrators to justice. We must continue working with our allies to defeat ISIS without endangering American lives in another civil war, and I will continue listening closely to the advice of military advisors and intelligence officials. Additionally, I continue to support expanded targeted airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, so that, along with our allies, we may disrupt ISIS’ ability to coordinate global terror attacks.”
According to a report on the vote by NBC News, Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said the bi-partisan vote – which included 47 Democrats – weakens the argument that the initiative is simply fear-mongering from the right.
“The fact this vote had bipartisan support makes it much more difficult for the president to say that this is simply about the GOP using the politics of fear to build the opposition to him … The terror attacks have dramatically changed the political dynamics surrounding these issues to the point that, for the time being, it will be difficult for the president to gain much more traction on this issue,” Zelizer said.
On Nov. 17 Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen tried to pass a motion to support Gov. Maggie Hassan in stopping Syrian refugees from coming to New Hampshire – Manchester is a designated resettlement city. However that motion did not get enough votes to pass, after some aldermen questioned the facts the motion made by Alderman Keith Hirschmann, was based on.
The following day Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard issued a clarification of his remarks, saying that when he said 500 refugees, he was not specifically talking about Syrians, but rather, all refugees coming to New Hampshire next year, based on information from the FBI.
However, according to Jeffrey Thielman, Executive Director of the Boston-based International Institute of New England, the number of Syrian refugees would not be 500, and given the lengthy process refugees must go through, including security and clearance, it is not possible to know how many refugees – from Syria or elsewhere – would be coming to New Hampshire in 2016.
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