GOP moves to pause refugee acceptance over background checks
© Getty Images

A group of Senate Republicans wants to largely pause the acceptance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees until the administration meets a wide-range of hurdles aimed at bolstering background checks.  

Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump MORE (R-Ill.) has introduced legislation that would block the administration from accepting or resettling the refugees until the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Director of National Intelligence have determined that each refugee has passed a background check ensuring that they aren't a national security threat and haven't supported a terrorist organization. 
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Kirk also wants the DHS inspector general and the comptroller general of the United States to, separately, review the certifications and give their findings to Congress and for DHS to give a quarterly report to Congress on the number of refugees who tried to enter the United States and how many were given certifications. 
 
Kirk's legislation — which is backed by five other Senate Republicans — comes after an end-of-year spending bill didn't address the refugee issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive goals for Republicans this summer GOP leader tempers ObamaCare expectations Week ahead: Senate faces difficult path to consensus on healthcare MORE (R-Ky.) has pledged to move legislation on the refugee acceptance program during the first quarter of next year, though it's unclear what proposal he would have the Senate take up. 
 
Kirk's legislation would also require the FBI, the DHS and the Director of National Intelligence to clarify within six months how the administration plans to enhance its screening for refugee applicants, including reviewing social media. He also wants to know if any changes were made after two al Qaeda supporters entered the United States in 2009 as Iraqi refugees. 
 
The Illinois Republican, who is facing a tough reelection in a blue-leaning state next year, has repeatedly backed a pause in the acceptance of refugees since the attacks.
 
He criticized Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Kirk next year, during a TV ad earlier this month, saying she "wants to bring 200,000 Syrian refugees to America even though the FBI says they cannot be safely screened."
 
But Kirk's stance has gotten pushback from Democrats. Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinUncertainty builds in Washington over White House leaks Top Dem: Kushner reports a 'rumor at this point' Sunday shows: Homeland Security chief hits the circuit after Manchester attack MORE (D-Ill.) suggested that the Illinois Republican was misguided in using the 2009 case involving the two Iraqi refugees as evidence that the acceptance program needs to be bolstered. 
 
"The refugee screening process was significantly enhanced. Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to our country," he said in a letter to the editor in the State Journal-Register on Monday. "During this holiday season, I hope more political leaders will take the time, as I have, to meet Syrian refugees living in Illinois."
 
Kirk's legislation would also crackdown on the Visa Waiver Program while prioritizing visas for Iraqi and Afghan translators. 
 
He was one of 10 Republicans to support an effort by Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulGOP leader tempers ObamaCare expectations Senate gears up for fight on Trump's 0B Saudi Arabia arms sale Paul: 0B Saudi arms deal ‘a travesty’ MORE (R-Ky.) earlier this year that would have paused issuing visas to more than 30 countries at a "high risk for exporting terrorists" and added a 30-day wait period for visitors from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program.