Nevada congressmen want Syrian refugee program stopped

WASHINGTON — Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei called on the Obama administration to “immediately halt” the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the United States.

The two Nevada Republicans joined more than 100 fellow Republicans in signing a letter that was sent Wednesday to President Barack Obama expressing their concerns about the program that has provided safe harbor here to about 1,800 Syrians since civil war broke out in their country in 2011.

Nevada has taken in eight, according to the State Department, but 9 if a refugee in the asylum program is counted.

Republicans have raised concerns with the vetting process used to determine if the refugees pose a public safety risk after reports surfaced that one of the terrorists involved in last weekend’s Paris attacks had a Syrian passport and apparently entered Europe through Greece. Doubts have since been raised about the legitimacy of those reports.

“Our first responsibility must be to protect Americans,” said Heck, who is seeking to replace Harry Reid in the Senate. “The Islamic State has declared war on the west and settling thousands of new refugees who cannot be properly vetted only increases the chances of a Paris-style attack in the United States.”

“With all due respect, when the President has regularly downplayed the threat of ISIS and Al-Qaida, only to be proven wrong time and again, what has he done to warrant the benefit of the doubt? Congress has the obligation to provide oversight and halt these plans until the necessary security precautions are in place,” said Amodei, who is seeking re-election.

More than half the nation’s governors want more assurances the vetting process is solid before more Syrian refugees arrive in their states. The White House is providing detailed briefings to governors and members of Congress, and has provided information to journalists as well about the screening measures used.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders are planning a vote Thursday on legislation that would require additional certifications and background checks for all Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking to resettle in the United States. The added scrutiny is expected to slow the admittance process that already takes between 18 and 24 months.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the certification “is huge.”

“That means that the Secretary (of Homeland Security), Director of National Intelligence, and FBI (Director) are putting their names on the line and that they are certifying these individuals are not a threat to national security,” he said.

The White House issued a statement saying Obama would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

“This legislation would introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism,” the statement said.

The White House pointed out that none of the 2,174 Syrian refugees who have been admitted to the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, have been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds. And, it noted that the screening process involves multiple federal intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies that look at fingerprint and biographical records as well as a lengthy interview by specially trained homeland security officers.

Contact Peter Urban at or at 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @PUrbanDC

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