Brushing aside new fears over terrorists exploiting the refugee program, Senate Democrats on Wednesday successfully defended President Obama’s call to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, saying the U.S. has an obligation to help the weak and needy.
Republicans had hoped to impose new security checks on the program by requiring Mr. Obama’s FBI, Homeland Security and intelligence chiefs to certify every refugee, saying those security officials needed to be on record if the country was going to expand its program.
But Democrats filibustered the plan, leaving Republicans five votes shy of the 60 needed to move forward, and leaving Mr. Obama a free hand to run the program as he wants.
“Women, children and families fleeing persecution are not the enemy,” Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said. “We should be focusing all our effort on defeating the real enemy.”
The Senate defeat was a stunning reversal for the bill, which cleared the House with overwhelming bipartisan support late last year. The House vote was even enough to override an Obama veto.
Senate Democrats, though, rallied to Mr. Obama, as they have so often during his tenure, saving him from having to confront another bill he didn’t like.
Mr. Obama has insisted his current program is capable of weeding out potential terrorists from the pool of potential refugees, and pointed to the Iraqi refugee program, which has admitted thousands of Iraqis over the last decade.
That program suffered a black eye earlier this year, however, after the Justice Department announced terrorism-related charges against two Iraqis, signaling that the program is not as air-tight as defenders said.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 25, a Palestinian born in Iraq, was been charged with attempting to provide support for the Islamic State, and lying to Homeland Security officers when he applied for citizenship in the U.S. Government informants said he trained as a machine gunner with the Islamic State, and was trying to build bombs in his Texas home, with plans to attack two shopping malls.
In the other case, investigators said Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, traveled to Syria and fought with Ansar al-Islam against the Syrian regime, according to charges brought in federal court in California. He then lied about the travel to Syria, prosecutors say.
Mr. Al-Jayab’s case is particularly worrying since he was admitted in October 2012 as a refugee from Syria.