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Religious Test for Immigrants Becomes Divisive Political Tool for U.S. Legislators

( [email protected] ) Jan 20, 2016 04:33 PM EST
U.S. Senate Democrats are pushing Republicans Wednesday about legislation that would bar religious testing for immigrants, because the vote presumably would force Republicans to take sides for or against presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called for barring Muslims from entering the United States.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pushing for amendments on Wednesday, Jan. 20, to a House-passed bill that would require new FBI background checks and individual sign-offs from three high-ranking ranking federal officials before any refugee from Syria or Iraq could come to the United States. REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST

U.S. Senate Democrats are pushing Republicans Wednesday about legislation that would bar religious testing for immigrants, because the vote presumably would force Republicans to take sides for or against presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called for barring Muslims from entering the United States.

Democrats pressed for the vote in return for allowing Republicans to move ahead with legislation cracking down on Syrian refugees coming to this country, according to U.S. News.

The GOP-supported American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015 cleared the House in November with 289 votes, a veto-proof margin that included 47 Democrats, despite President Barack Obama's opposition. It was quickly assembled after the terrorist attacks in Paris, France. The act adds security measures to existing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) screening.

The House bill would require new Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks and individual sign-offs from three high-ranking federal officials before any refugee from Syria or Iraq could come to the United States.

The bill indicates a "covered alien" is any alien applying for U.S. refugee admission who:  is a national or resident of Iraq or Syria; has no nationality and whose last habitual residence was in Iraq or Syria; or has been present in Iraq or Syria at any time on or after March 1, 2011.

Syrian Refugees
Migrants wait to register with the police at the refugee center in Presevo, Serbia. (AP Photo / Darko Vojinovic)

Under the bill, an alien would only be admitted to the United States after DHS, with the unanimous concurrence of the FBI and the director of national intelligence, certifies to Congress that he or she is not such a threat.

Additionally, annual risk-based reviews of all certifications would be required, and DHS staffers would have to report monthly to Congress regarding the total number of admission applications accepted and declined.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., encouraged Democrats not to block the Senate from considering the House bill, calling political pressure to oppose the bill "intensely shortsighted."

Democrats are suggesting a handful of amendments to the bill to stop Trump's "reprehensible proposal to impose a religious test on admission into the United States," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Associated Press.

"This bill the Republican leader is bringing to the floor scapegoats refugees who are fleeing war and torture instead of creating real solutions to keep Americans safe," said Reid.

Other amendments include increasing anti-terrorism money for local police forces and airport security and banning the sale of guns and explosives to people on federal terrorism watch lists, Reid said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the bill is a security test, not a religious one.

Presidential campaign staffers of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced Tuesday he was canceling two events in New Hampshire and rescheduling two others to return to Washington to vote on this bill. While Republicans said the bill contains no religious tests for the refugees, Cruz and White House rival Jeb Bush have suggested giving preferences to Christians.

Obama is expected to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Tags : Democrats, Republicans, syrian refugees, Muslims, Donald Trump, American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, Obama, Cruz, House Bills