House Speaker Paul Ryan called Tuesday for a "pause" in Syrian refugees coming to the US in the wake of the Paris attacks. "Our nation has always been welcoming, but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion," Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters after a closed-door House GOP meeting. "This is a moment where it's better to be safe than to be sorry, so we think the prudent ... thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program ... to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population." Republicans said the chairmen of national security-focused committees were working on legislation dealing with Syrian refugees that the House could vote on as early as Thursday, though it wasn't clear exactly what the legislation would involve. GOP congressional aides said lawmakers are getting swamped by calls from constituents demanding action to ensure the US is protected from threats after it came out that one of the Paris perpetrators may have entered France with a group of Syrian refugees.
The US has admitted only 2,500 Syrians or so (about half of them children, 25% of them people over 60) since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, but the Obama administration wants to admit 10,000 more this year. That goal was announced earlier this year after a photo of a Syrian toddler washed up on a beach sparked calls for compassion. Senior officials from the State Department, Homeland Security Department, and the US intelligence community emphasized Tuesday that screening for Syrian refugees is the most rigorous for any travelers wishing to come here, including an interview overseas, biometrics, fingerprinting, and bio investigations to gauge security risks; Syrians are subject to additional, classified controls. "Let us as legislators rise above petty politics, rise above sectarian fears ... the underlying layer of xenophobia," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said on the House floor. "Let us maintain America's commitment as a beacon of hope." (At least 16 governors say they will refuse Syrian refugees.)