The political debate over proposed U.S. immigration reform has been intensified and highly confused in the wake of the massacres in Paris, wherein one attacker was found to have a Syrian passport and was thought to have entered the country without inspection.
Immediately following the attacks, President Obama expressed support for France and condemned ISIS attackers, but has been fighting to keep support for his plan to expand the number of Syrian refugees entering the U.S. fleeing ISIS violence to 10,000. Though the plan was announced in September, many have been misreading this expansion as a direct result of the Paris attacks.
Many state governors, including GA governor Nathan Deal, issued statements saying that they will not accept incoming refugees from Syria in light of the attacks. However, given basic constitutional organization of government, states cannot override federal policy to make decisions about which immigrants they do and do not accept.
The Republican controlled Congress has responded by passing the Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) bill with enough bipartisan support to override a presidential veto. While this bill does not pander to political rhetoric, it does increase the length and rigor of the bureaucratic process of immigrating from Middle Eastern countries by requiring the FBI Director, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence all to sign off on individual immigrants from Syria or Iraq.
GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been extremely vocal in the last week, each expressing the need to ramp up security in immigration procedures in the U.S. to ridiculous or even insulting levels. Trump, who in his last presidential debate called for a renewal of the so-called Operation Wetback program of the 1950s and called for deportation of all unlawfully present immigrants and their children, last week called for a registration for U.S. Muslims. He later pulled back from this call, saying more generally, “I want surveillance of these people. I want surveillance if we have to. I want surveillance of certain mosques, OK?” Carson, similarly, called for an immigrant “database,” though it was unclear whether he was referring to existing USCIS practice or a new agency. Ted Cruz, another GOP candidate, has suggested that only Christians fleeing violence in Syria should be admitted.
Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have taken stands against these proposals. Clinton, in a speech on Thursday, said “turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are,” directly targeting her comments toward GOP opponents. Similarly, Sanders has emailed supporters saying, “In this moment, it is particularly important that we not allow ourselves to be divided by the anti-immigrant hysteria that Republican presidential candidates are ginning up. When hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything and have nothing left but the shirts on their backs, we should not turn our backs on these refugees escaping violence in the Middle East.”