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US Republicans push to block refugees

January 9, 2016

Terror-related charges against two asylum seekers in the US have prompted a renewed legislative push from the Republicans which would effectively slam the door on asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq.

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) makes a public statement
Image: Reuters/J. Ernst

The arrests of two Iraqi-born men on terrorism related charges in Texas and California on Thursday have prompted Republicans in the US House of Representatives to renew calls for Senate action on #a bill that would effectively close the door to Iraqi and Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the US.

Among other features, the bill would require new FBI background checks before any refugees would be allowed into the country. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is urging the Senate to vote on the bill that passed the House in November, after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The bill garnered bipartisan support in the House, but its prospects in the Senate appear dim. Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has declared that the bill will not pass the Senate.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to act on the issue in the new few months, but beyond that he has been vague about his plans. Specifically, it is unclear if he would try to bring the House bill up for a vote, or draw up another measure.

President Barack Obama would surely veto the current House bill, which he strongly opposes. The White House argues that there are already tight controls on would-be asylum seekers.

US actress Susan Sarandon aids refugees on the Greek Island of Lesbos.
Plenty of Americans want to keep the door open to refugees, including actress Susan SarandonImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Balaskas

Ironically, the successful prosecution of the two suspects may have been put in jeopardy by the conservative governor of Texas, Greg Abbott and his Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who are eager to slam the door shut on the refugees.

Charges pushed forward

Both men released details of the charges against the suspects on Thursday while they were still under court seal. As a result prosecutors were forced to bring their cases forward on Friday, before their investigations were complete.

One suspect, Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, who lives in Houston, is accused of providing material support to the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) overseas. He reportedly entered the US as an Iraqi refugee in 2009, and received permanent legal residence status in 2011.

He appeared in court Friday, charged with aiding IS by offering his services and support. He also faces charges for lying to US officials about his ties to IS, and weapons training he received. He did not enter a plea.

"He was prepared to take whatever action on his own behalf to assist the organization," Kenneth Magidson, US attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said after the hearing.

In the other case, the US Department of Justice unveiled charges against Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab of Sacramento. Another Iraqi refugee, Al-Jayab is accused of traveling abroad to fight alongside terrorist organizations and lying to US officials about it.

Neither man is accused of any terrorist activity in, or against, the US.

bik/cmk (AP, Reuters)