The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill calling for a halt to accepting Syrian refugees until more stringent safeguards are in place, and Florida Democrats Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy joined House Republicans in supporting the bill.
The American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act proposed by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican of Texas, would require “comprehensive background checks” of every refugee from Iraq or Syria, as well as certification from the nation’s top security officials.
Every Republican in the House voted for the bill, and Graham and Murphy were two of 47 Democrats nationally who joined them.
Tampa Bay area Democrat Kathy Castor opposed the bill, but in a statement gave a nuanced answer about why she opposed the measure.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of the families of my neighbors and all Americans,” Castor said. “After the horrendous Paris terrorist attacks, we must ensure that law enforcement, intelligence agencies and military service members have the tools they need to keep us safe. It also is fair to examine how people enter the United States and the various screening processes for visitors, asylum seekers, refugees, and others fleeing war-torn nations. Those wishing to enter our country must meet strict tests and checks, but it is counterproductive to completely halt appropriate resettlement of victims of torture, those who have opposed terrorist groups like ISIL, and those with family ties.”
Castor said she supported a Democratic alternative, called The Secure Refugee Process Act of 2015.
Castor added that she supports legislation prohibiting any person on the national terrorism watch list from being able to purchase a firearm.
“Data from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) show that between 2004 and 2010, people on terrorism watch lists tried to buy guns and explosives more than 1,400 times. They succeeded in more than 90 percent of those cases, or 1,321 times. In 2013-14, the number of successful buyers rose to 94 percent, with 455 suspects buying weapons and just 30 denied as allowed under current laws. Of those denied, the GAO reported that none were denied because they were a terror threat, but because either there was a ‘felony conviction, under indictment, adjudicated mental health, misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction, fugitive from justice and controlled substance abuse.’ ”