Mstyslav Chernov
Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at Budapest’s Keleti railway station, in September. (Mstyslav Chernov)

After Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney voted for a Republican-led bill that would curb Iraqi and Syrian immigration by expanding background checks, he was compelled to defend that vote on social media.

“Throughout the day, I have spoken with constituents concerned about my vote last night for a bill to augment the existing process for screening refugees from Iraq and Syria entering the United States, Courtney, D-2nd District, said on Facebook last week. “A lot has been said about the bill and my vote.”

The bill, H.R. 4038, would not allow Syrian and Iraqi refugees access into the United States until the Federal Bureau of Investigation certifies that each individual does not pose a security threat.

—Click here to receive email updates from DC NEWS JUNKIE!

Under the bill, admittance would be granted only with the unanimous agreement of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence, an umbrella agency currently led by James R. Clapper.

In his defense of his vote, Courtney said the bill does not seek to block immigration, but certifies the existing immigration vetting process, which he called a “stringent security screening regime.”

“There is no cutoff of the refugee program in this bill,” Courtney wrote. “No suspension. No withholding of funding. No new criteria for refugee entry.”

The bill’s sponsor, Texas Republican Michael McCaul, might see the purpose of the measure a bit differently, however.

“I sent a letter to President Obama on Monday,” McCaul said, “calling for a temporary suspension of Syrian refugee admissions until a full review of the resettlement program, including vetting security risks, could be completed.”

All but 10 House Republicans voted in favor of the measure—two voting against and eight not casting a ballot—but Courtney was not the only Democrat to vote along with the GOP. He was not even the only Connecticut Democrat to vote in favor.

YouTube video
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, voted with Courtney.

“Fair-minded Americans know it’s essential that we keep our country safe while still maintaining our commitment to protecting innocents from violence and persecution in their home countries,” Himes wrote. “I feel passionately that this is a moral imperative.”

The threat posed by refugees has been a subject of much debate since terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month. Twenty-five governors around the nation have said they would deny entry to Syrians seeking asylum in the United States, though Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed the opposite sentiment, and a Syrian family took up residence in New Haven after being vetted for three years, as the New Haven Register reported,

Seth Jones, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, testified in June before Congress that the threat posed by refugees is “relatively low.”

“The threat to the U.S. homeland from refugees has been relatively low. Almost none of the major terrorist plots since 9/11 have involved refugees,” Jones wrote. “Even in those cases where refugees were arrested on terrorism-related charges, years and even decades often transpired between their entry into the United States and their involvement in terrorism. In most instances, a would-be terrorist’s refugee status had little or nothing to do with their radicalization and shift to terrorism.”

Courtney, though, said that the “already robust” refugee vetting process must itself be “reviewed to ensure that it was as strong as it could be and instill confidence that no one seeking us harm could take advantage of the resettlement program.”

“I know some may not agree with my vote on this bill,” he wrote.

Jordan Fenster can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.