Why This Texas Democrat Voted For More Refugee Background Checks

One Democratic representative says he voted for more stringent background checks on Syrian refugees “to certify whoever comes into the United States is not a risk to the country.”

By Rhonda FanningNovember 20, 2015 2:59 pm,

A funny thing happened on the way to the U.S. House passing a bill called the “Safe Act” yesterday. Inspired by concerns after the Paris attacks, this bill would extend background checks on refugees from Syria and put up major obstacles to the President’s plan to admit 10,000 refugees before he leaves office.

Congressman Henry Cuellar was one of 47 Democrats to OK the legislation, and one of five Democrats from Texas to do so. That helped lead the House to a majority to override President Obama’s promised veto.

Cuellar says “properly” vetting claims for refugee and asylum status is important to know “who they are.”

“It just provides more vetting to make sure that we are a compassionate country, but at the same time, just sure who comes into the United States,” he says.

Cuellar says the current system takes 18 to 24 months with a background check. This legislation will another layer of security, he says. 

“It tells the agencies at three places to say,” he says, “‘Hey, we’re going to certify whoever comes into the United States is not a risk to the country.’”  

This policy splits the middle between the extremes of letting everyone in and letting no one in, Cuellar says. Some, including the head of FBI, have said that there’s no way to track all people in all countries to vet all possible terrorist threats. But Cuellar says there are ways to properly vet individuals – of the 1,800 Syrian refugees that the U.S. accepted last year, Texas got 189.

“So we got to really look at those individuals,” Cuellar says, “And if we can’t, then why are we going to let them into the U.S.?”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.