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Congress Largely Cut Out of Refugee Certification

Babin wants Republican leaders to address the refugee situation through the appropriations process, but the tools for doing so are limited. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican lawmakers who see the year-end omnibus spending bill as a vehicle to slow the flow of Syrian refugees to the United States might need to get creative. Why? The certification process for refugees critics are concerned about is funded by fees, not appropriated by Congress.  

In the week following the terrorist attacks in Paris, Republicans called for a pause in the program that allows Syrians to flee their civil war and see refuge in the United States, arguing there are gaps in the process used to verify and certify refugees. The House passed legislation on Nov. 19 that would require U.S. security and intelligence agencies to increase take a closer look at refugees from Iraq and Syria. The White House threatened to veto the bill, arguing refugees already undergo an extensive series of checks and the bill would not make the nation safer.  

The certification of refugees is led by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, part of the Department of Homeland Security. And the service is funded through immigration fees, such as visa or green card application fees.  

President Barack Obama has proposed increasing the number of refugees admitted through the program in fiscal 2016 to account for the admission of at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. USCIS has sufficient funding in its examination fee account to cover those admissions, Barbara Strack, chief of USCIS's Refugee Affairs Division, told a Senate panel earlier this year.  

So how can Congress use the appropriations process to block entry of those 10,000 some Syrian refugees?  

For one, it could withhold funding for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which is responsible for providing refugees' transportation to the United States. That is the program’s most important funding avenue, according to the office of Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas.  

Babin is gathering signatures on a letter to Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers urging them to add language addressing the refugee issue to the upcoming omnibus appropriations bill, which is necessary to keep the government funded after current spending expires Dec. 11.  

Babin and at least 74 co-signers of his letter are seeking a rider that would prevent federal funds from being used to admit refugees until certain conditions are met, while permitting the United States to continue to provide financial aid to refugees overseas.  

Republicans may also seek to include language preventing refugees from receiving federal benefits. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., offered a similar amendment to the Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill last week, prompting Senate leaders to delay consideration of the measure until after Thanksgiving.  

House Republicans, meanwhile, might seek to attach to spending legislation the language of their recently passed refugee bill.

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