It was nice to see the House get a veto-proof majority for its Syrian refugee bill. The problem is, when you get down to it, it doesn’t do anything. The bill doesn’t explicitly pause the in-take of Syrian refugees; it adds an additional layer of certification. The theory is that figuring out how to do this will take time and therefore constitute an effective pause. But it’s highly doubtful that an administration that has torn up the law to get its way on amnesty is going to let the need for a few additional signatures prevent it from working its will on Syrian refugees.
…the American SAFE Act isn’t, on its face, all that different from existing policy. The Obama administration has sworn up and down that it already subjects would-be refugees to exhaustive security checks. Asking for formal certification doesn’t seem like a big deal. The administration believes it would be a massive pain to require the DHS secretary to sign off on individual refugees, but that is not a terribly persuasive argument — especially for Democrats who don’t always respect the administration to begin with.
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly decided to support the bill exactly because he concluded after attending a briefing from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that getting around the bill is just a matter of mechanics:
Connolly was quick to concede that the current background check system is “already very robust.” But following the Paris attack, he argued, many felt Congress needed to act. And the administration’s argument was simply not enough to convince him the extra security layers would cripple the refugee program.
“They are concerned that the … consequence of this is to simply add to the difficulty and timeline of status approval. So what’s already an 18- to 24-month process could become twice that,” Connolly said. “And obviously … no one wants that as an outcome.
“[But] when people said, ‘Well, can’t we work that out administratively by adding resources, delegating certification, maybe even collapsing all of this into a more expedited, accelerated process across the board?’ The answer wasn’t, ‘Well, no, statutorily we wouldn’t be able to do that.’ The answer was, ‘We don’t have the staff.’
“That’s just a matter of mechanics, it’s not a matter of principle or statute,” Connolly said. “And that’s not a good enough reason for me to vote no. And I think a lot of the other Democrats felt the same way.”
Another irony: When you compare the House GOP’s bill to what Senate Dems are pushing, it’s the Democratic bill that’s more substantive. Dianne Feinstein wants to add an exception to the current policy of waiving the visa requirement for visitors from France; the exception would require a visa for anyone who’s visited Iraq or Syria in the last five years. That wouldn’t affect refugees, but frankly it’s the visa waiver program that’s probably the bigger terrorist threat to the U.S. With Merkel waving Middle Easterners into the EU by the thousands, it’s almost certainly easier for a terrorist to establish himself quickly in the EU and then fly on to the U.S. then to sign up and wait two years, subject to a lengthy background check, as a phony refugee. Hopefully Feinstein’s bill will pass regardless of what happens with the House GOP bill.