The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a bill to intensify security screenings of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, defying a veto threat by President Barack Obama.
The Republican-backed measure was passed on Thursday on a vote of 289 to 137, with 47 of Obama’s 188 fellow Democrats breaking with the White House to support the bill.
Opposition Republicans are calling for a “pause” in Syrian and Iraqi refugee admissions after the deadly attacks in Paris last Friday, claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The bill must first pass the Senate before going to Obama, who is seeking to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees by September next year.
The Senate is also controlled by the Republicans, although their majority there is slimmer. Both houses would have to muster a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
The White House has said the legislation would introduce “unnecessary and impractical requirements” that would hamper US efforts to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world while providing no meaningful additional security for people in the US.
Under the proposal, no refugees from Syria or Iraq could enter the United States until several top-level US security officials verified they did not pose a threat.
“If our law enforcement and intelligence community cannot verify that each and every person coming here is not a security threat, then they shouldn’t be allowed in,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference.
“Right now, the government can’t certify these standards. So this plan pauses the programme.”
Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic Party’s minority faction in the House, said during the chamber’s floor debate that the Republican legislation “slams the door on desperate mothers and children fleeing
[ISIL’s] unspeakable violence”.
‘Exaggeration of risks’
Obama said on Wednesday that attempts to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the US were “offensive and contrary to American values”.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Philippine capital, Manila, the US president accused politicians at home of trying to score political points over the issue, amid escalating anti-refugee rhetoric from dozens of US governors and Republican presidential hopefuls in the wake of the Paris attacks.
“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks,” Obama said.