Republicans rouse, administration allays post-Paris fears

Shrill debate on refugees, border control in US.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:33 pm IST

Published - November 20, 2015 08:18 am IST - Washington

The shrill Republican campaign against the Obama administration’s refugee policy could get nastier as the president is all set to veto a law passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday that mandates cabinet level vetting of each refugee entering the U.S. The terror attack on Paris last Saturday has triggered a high-pitched domestic debate in the U.S. on refugees and border controls.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch described the law as “impractical and impossible.” The Obama administration plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, which a senior official described as modest, “measured against more than four million Syrian refugees currently hosted in the Middle East.” US has admitted 2184 Syrian refugees since 2011.

Senator Ted Cruz said he would lead a campaign to stop the president from admitting “thousands of Muslims to the U.S,” while Donald Trump — both are aspirants for Republican presidential nomination – wondered why “these strong men were coming as refugees.” “Why can’t they fight for their country?” asked Mr Trump.

In a statement on Thursday, the White House strongly defended its refugee policy. “The refugees that have captivated so much attention in the wake of Friday's attack are fleeing precisely the type of senseless slaughter that happened in Paris. To slam the door in their faces — to decide not to help when we know that we can help — would be a betrayal of our deepest values as Americans.”

While the Republican fear mongering is aimed at harvesting the latent insecurity that Paris might have caused among the public, administration officials sought to allay fears. “We are not aware of any credible threat here of a Paris-type attack and we have seen no connection at all between the Paris attackers and the United States,” Jamey Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, said.

Several video clips originating from the Islamic State have threatened to strike on U.S. soil, but Mr Comey said they were more like propaganda. “Do not let fear become disabling. That is what the terrorists want. They want you to imagine them in the shadows, they want you to imagine them as something greater than they are,” he said.

The FBI chief, however, did not rule out potential threat of attack on U.S. soil and this may not be from refugees. “The threat here focuses primarily on troubled souls in America who are being inspired or enabled online to do something violent for ISIL.” “We have stopped a lot of those people this year,” Mr Comey said adding that the agency has taken investigations “up a notch” since the Paris attacks and was keeping a watch on dozens of people. “We are not perfect, but we are good.”

The fact that European citizens were also involved in Paris has ticked off another debate, on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that allows citizens of 38 countries – which includes most European countries - to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days. State department spokesperson John Kirby said the administration would look at the VWP to ensure that it did not lead to any security lapse. “And if we have to adjust, we’ll adjust,” he said, even as Schengen countries are contemplating more border controls. Mr Kirby said the Department of Homeland Security vetted VWP applicants also and the process was tightened in November 2014 “to more effectively identify travellers who might pose a risk.”

Yet another category of risk is from US citizens who may have entered the IS ranks abroad and returning to the country to mount an attack. Asked about measures taken to detect this risk, an official of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told The Hindu in an email: “CBP has deployed a multi-layered, risk-based approach to enhance the security of our borders while facilitating the lawful flow of people and goods entering the United States. ….Close coordination with our partners ensures our zone of security extends outward and that our physical border is not the first or last line of defence, but one of many.”

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