WASHINGTON — Texas Republicans — and five Texas Democrats — shrugged off a presidential veto threat and overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday that would block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S. until they go through a more intensive screening process.
The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which passed by a 289-137 vote, was approved amid increased anxiety after Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The White House lobbied hard against the bill, arguing that the current screening process was sufficiently secure.
But those efforts fell on deaf ears among the 47 Democrats who sided with the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican and the House Homeland Security Committee chairman.
Those Democrats included five Texans: U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Gene Green of Houston, Filemon Vela of Brownsville and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth.
“Last week’s tragic attacks in Paris have once again reaffirmed the need to combat terrorism as a global community and stand together against those who wish to endanger innocent lives,” Veasey said in a statement released after the vote. “The American people are understandably worried and they have a right to know about the process we use to screen refugees.
“The bill presented today had reasonable and sound security provisions that do not halt the refugee process. Instead, they balance the need for a secure vetting process with our nation’s reputation for treating vulnerable populations fairly and humanely. While we must remain vigilant about any security threats at home and abroad, we must not allow our resolve to defeat ISIL to develop into misguided xenophobia against any specific religion or nationality.”
Thursday’s vote indicated that the House could override a presidential veto. Even so, House Democratic leaders — who sided with President Obama — insisted they could sustain a veto.
In a statement, Doggett said he voted for the legislation despite having some strong issues with the proposal.
“Instead of working together to make our families safer, this partisan four-page bill divides,” he said. “Fortunately, it does not halt the refugee resettlement program — it simply requires bureaucrats to file more reports and sign more papers.”
“I voted for it asking the Administration to certify that each person admitted through the thorough, existing process actually poses no security risk,” he added. “Republicans should reverse course and join us to address genuine challenges, instead of blameless victims fleeing violence in Syria.”
But other House Democrats beyond the delegation publicly railed on White House officials, saying they made a subpar case to the caucus.
The legislation is expected to face more difficulty in the Senate.
Two House Republicans, U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville and Lamar Smith of San Antonio, advocated on Wednesday for a temporary freeze in allowing any refugees into the country.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/19/several-texas-democrats-oppose-obama-syrian-refuge/.