Ohio State Attack Renews Calls for Refugee Reform

Republican members of Congress press for vote on bill pausing refugee resettlement from war-torn regions

In response to an apparent terrorist attack at Ohio State University, several Republican members of Congress are renewing efforts to force a vote on legislation that would curtail America’s refugee resettlement program.

During the attack Monday, Abdul Razak Ali Artan crashed a relative’s car into a crowd of students and staff and then starting slashing with a butcher knife, sending 11 people to the hospital. A campus police officer shot him dead.

“The Ohio State University terrorist attack is yet another example of why we must take a step back and reevaluate the failed refugee and asylum policies that are literally getting Americans killed.”

The incident has rekindled concern over the accelerated pace of refugee relocations initiated by President Obama. Artan and his family reportedly came to the United States in 2007 as refugees after fleeing their native Somalia for Pakistan.

Several Republican representatives called for a vote on the Resettlement Accountability National Security Prioritization Act of 2016, which has been stalled since they introduced it in July 2015.

“The Ohio State University terrorist attack is yet another example of why we must take a step back and reevaluate the failed refugee and asylum policies that are literally getting Americans killed,” Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), a co-sponsor, said in a statement to LifeZette.

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Babin said his bill “puts a commonsense pause on the refugee program to ensure we are not carelessly letting in folks who intend to do us harm. It’s more important than ever that we restrict those coming in from areas of terrorism and close the security loopholes in our inept and porous immigration, refugee, and visa programs.”

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The bill would halt the refugee program until Congress reauthorizes the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to again begin admitting refugees. The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office to complete a study calculating the cost of providing benefits to refugees.

Immigration researchers have determined that the refugee program is enormously expensive because recipients — who immediately are eligible for a full range of government-assistance programs — tend to be poor and less educated.

The estimated cost of admitting 10,000 Syrians in fiscal year 2016 is $644 million over the first five years they live in the United States, a figure based on a 2015 report by the Center for Immigration Studies calculating welfare costs of resettled refugees from the Middle East. For the same money, the United States could assist 12 times as many refugees in Middle Eastern countries where they currently live.

James Milstead, a spokesman for Babin, told LifeZette that the bill’s sponsors would like to get a vote any way they can — either as standalone legislation or as part of a spending bill that must pass Congress later this year.

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, argued that Monday’s attack makes clear that the safety of Americans depends on passage of the bill.

“Congress should take up either Rep. Babin’s bill or something similar to properly vet refugees coming from other countries before they arrive in the U.S.,” he said in a prepared statement.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) called the attack a “sobering reminder” that Americans remain vulnerable to external threats.

“Responsible solutions cannot wait any longer,” he said in a statement. “I call on my colleagues in Congress to both quickly and seriously evaluate real reforms to our refugee resettlement program.”

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Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said action in the current Congress appears unlikely. He said it is possible that if Democrats in the House refuse to back a temporary spending measure to keep the government operating, the Freedom Caucus might have leverage to make the refugee reform measures part of that bill. But he added that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) likely would prefer a “clean” spending bill that does not include amendments.

The sponsors could reintroduce the bill next year and may face less resistance with  Obama out of office. But Chmielenski suggested it might not be necessary then, since President-Elect Donald Trump will have all the authority he needs to shut down the program or temporarily freeze it.

“He wouldn’t even need legislation to do it,” he said. “The incident at Ohio State only increases that possibility.”

But Milstead said Babin would still like to pass the law with future administrations in mind.

“We still think steps need to be taken to ensure that it’s not abused,” he said.

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