Editor's note: This story has been updated to include new legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
As Republicans push to temporarily freeze the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S., two Texas congressman say they want to suspend funding for all refugee resettlement efforts.
U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and Brian Babin, R-Woodville, on Wednesday asked House leadership for a “temporary suspension” of funding for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to prevent any new refugee admissions. The congressmen, joined by two of their colleagues in the House, want funding to be halted in an end-of year spending bill.
“There is no duty of the federal government more important than ensuring the protection of the American people,” Babin said in a letter to House leadership. “With the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, it is now more critical than ever that the United States halt the troublesome refugee resettlement program.”
Republicans’ calls for halting refugee admissions to the U.S. come days after terrorist attacks in Paris linked with the Islamic State killed more than 120 people. Those calls had centered on delaying the admission of Syrian refugees.
One bill introduced by Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, chairman of the powerful House Homeland Security Committee, would temporarily delay President Obama’s plan to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year and further heighten refugee screening requirements. But Smith and Babin said they want to stop all refugee resettlement efforts. Democratic House members have urged their colleagues to vote against McCaul’s bill.
On Wednesday evening, U.S. Ted Cruz announced that he had introduced legislation that would immediately prohibit entry to a refugee from any country, such as Syria or Iraq, that "contains territory substantially controlled by a foreign terrorist organization."
Obama has said he would fiercely oppose any proposals that would keep Syrian refugees from resettling in the U.S. once they’ve been vetted by federal national security officials. In a statement by the Office of Management and Budget, White House officials said Obama would veto McCaul’s bill, highlighting the “rigorous and thorough” security screenings that refugees undergo.
The U.S. State Department processes applications received through the U.N. and conducts security screenings — a process that can take up to two years. Refugees cleared by the State Department are then assigned to one of nine national refugee resettlement organizations that place individuals in communities across the country where local case managers help them resettle.
This week, governors across the country, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, said they would work to keep Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states in light of the Paris attacks. But it appears governors have little power in halting refugee resettlement in their states — a process controlled and funded by the federal government.
At least 160 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas in recent years. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the U.S. prepares to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.
In a letter sent Monday to Obama, Abbott said he would direct the Texas Health & Human Services Commission's Refugee Resettlement Program “to not participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in the State of Texas.” And on Tuesday he asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to “ensure any refugees already in this state do not pose a risk to public safety.” DPS officials declined to comment on what that process would entail.
Leaders of nonprofits that manage refugee resettlement have likened blocking Syrians refugees from resettling in the U.S. to "nothing less than signing a death warrant for tens of thousands of families fleeing for their lives."
Abby Livingston contributed reporting from Washington.