Shelby, Sessions push to pause immigration from ‘high risk’ countries
WASHINGTON — Alabama Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions were two of only 10 Republicans to vote in favor of pausing the issuance of visas to more than thirty countries “at a high risk for exporting terrorists.”
The vote was on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that was attached to the Senate’s repeal of ObamaCare late last week.
The 33 countries that were included in the amendment were Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories.
Senators Shelby, Sessions and Paul were joined in supporting the amendment by senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY) Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and David Vitter (R-LA). Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) did not vote, and all other 89 senators voted against the measure.
According to The Hill, the amendment “would also require that individuals from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program to either wait 30 days before coming to the United States or go through enhanced background and security checks, as well as requiring the government to perform additional screening on any admitted refugees.”
“We spend hundreds of billions of dollars defending our country,” said Sen. Paul, “and yet we cannot truly defend our country unless we defend our border.”
Senators Shelby and Sessions have formed a one-two punch on immigration issues in recent years. Most recently, they tag-teamed President Barack Obama’s Syrian refugee resettlement program by moving to revoke its funding.
The current funding proposal before Congress would not only authorize the President’s plan to bring in 85,000 refugees on top of the current, historical annual immigration flow, but would also allow for an unlimited amount of money to be spent on lifetime welfare and benefits for refugees.
100 refugees are currently slated to be housed in Alabama by Catholic Social Services. The date of their arrival is uncertain.
“This year’s appropriations bills – which will be combined into a catch-all ‘omnibus’ by December 11th – amount to a blank check for the President to carry out his refugee resettlement plans,” said Sessions. The senator also said the bill will “fund the continued placement of illegal aliens from Central America into U.S. communities; continue federal funding for ‘sanctuary cities’; allow for the continued operation of the President’s 2012 executive amnesty program; and (could also) include a huge expansion of the H-2B foreign worker visa program.”
In light of those findings, Sessions urged his colleagues to use Congress’s power of the purse to deny funding to the president’s appropriations requests.
“The President’s annual funding requests are just that: requests,” he said. “It is the exclusive and sole constitutional prerogative of Congress whether or not to accept his requests, reject them, or impose whatever conditions Congress deems proper on behalf of taxpaying Americans.”
While the Republican-controlled House recently passed a bill some argue would halt the influx of Syrian refugees and intensify the security screenings of refugees going forward, Sessions and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) have both said Congress’s focus should be on the funding side, where they have more power.
“As Chairmen of Subcommittees on both the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees, we believe it is essential that any government funding bill cancel the President’s blank check for refugee resettlement,” they said in a joint statement last month. “Long before the barbaric attacks in Paris, government officials and investigators have stated that we do not have the capacity to effectively screen Syrian refugees. The bloody assaults on the streets of France add new urgency to an already dangerous situation. Right now, our refugee program – like all of our visa programs – runs on autopilot. Each year, millions of visas go out the door without any input or action from Congress. We would not accept this policy for the federal budget, and we should not accept it for immigration. We therefore urge the inclusion of a provision in any omnibus spending bill that makes it absolutely clear that no refugee resettlement will take place without a separate, affirmative Congressional vote to authorize any resettlement and offset its huge costs.”
Sessions added to that statement last week, demanding members of Congress decide whether they will push back against the White House prior to voting on the impending omnibus bill, which House Speaker Paul Ryan says will be coming to the floor later this week.
“Now is the hour of choosing for Congress,” he said. “Will we surrender – funding Obama’s entire immigration agenda – or will we assert Congress’s power on behalf of the interests of the American people?”