Issue Spotlight: Refugee Policies and U.S. Strategy for Combatting ISIS/ISIL/D’aesh

7 min read

The horrific attacks in Paris have intensified ongoing discussions about the American strategy for combatting ISIS — or “ISIL” or “D’aesh. (See: Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS “Daesh.”) It has also brought some to express concerns about refugee resettlement policies for those fleeing ISIS, ongoing human rights violations in Syria, and US intelligence capabilities in the region. While there will be ongoing debate about the extent to which refugee policies, domestic threats, and military strategy intersect, the issues are already intersecting within the U.S. political debate.

We highlight bills already pending in Congress about these topics. Presidential candidates (and senators) Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have announced that they will introduce related bills. (We will update as bill details become available.)


UPDATE: November 19, 2015: House passes H.R. 4038

H.R. 4038: To require that supplemental certifications and background investigations be completed prior to the admission of certain aliens as refugees, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. McCaul, Michael T. [R-TX-10] (Introduced 11/17/2015)

How did your rep vote?


UPDATE November 18, 2015: Related bills introduced in the past 48 hours

H.R.4048: To suspend the admission and resettlement of aliens seeking refugee status because of the conflict in Syria until adequate protocols are established to protect the national security of the United States 
Sponsor: Rep. Graves, Garret [R-LA-6] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4033: To temporarily suspend the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the United States and to give States the authority to reject admission of refugees into its territory or tribal land.
Sponsor: Rep. Crawford, Eric A. “Rick” [R-AR-1] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4032: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for a limitation on the resettlement of refugees.
Sponsor: Rep. Poe, Ted [R-TX-2] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4031: To prohibit obligation of Federal funds for admission of refugees from Syria, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Byrne, Bradley [R-AL-1] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4030: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide that refugees may not be resettled in any State where the governor of that State has taken any action formally disapproving of the resettlement…
Sponsor: Rep. Palazzo, Steven M. [R-MS-4] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4025: To prohibit obligation of Federal funds for admission of refugees from Syria, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Ross, Dennis A. [R-FL-15] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


S.2284: A bill to suspend the admission and resettlement of aliens seeking refugee status because of the conflict in Syria until adequate protocols are established to protect the national security of the…
Sponsor: Sen. Vitter, David [R-LA] (Introduced 11/17/2015)


H.R.4017: Save Christians from Genocide Act
Sponsor: Rep. Rohrabacher, Dana [R-CA-48] (Introduced 11/16/2015)


H.R.3999: American SAFE Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Hudson, Richard [R-NC-8] (Introduced 11/16/2015)


H.Res.528: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the Victims of the Terror Protection Fund.
Sponsor: Rep. Jackson Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18] (Introduced 11/16/2015)


The U.S. Military Strategy to Combat ISIS

Last Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike in Libya, killing the leader of ISIS in Libya. The airstrike marked the first time the U.S. directly attacked an ISIS target in Libya. “It demonstrates that the United States will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate,” a Defense Department spokesperson explained.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, several Members of Congress called for a “Syria Surge,” while President Obama, speaking from the G20 meeting in Turkey, said: “It is not just my view, but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers, that that would be a mistake.”

Beyond the question of strategy, there is also the question of the President’s authority to undertake military in the region. On November 10, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy For The Global Coalition To Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, spoke before a Senate briefing, saying that President Obama did not need additional authority to take on ISIS.

However, the President has requested this authority, sending Congress a draft Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution earlier in the year:


 Draft Authorization for the use of Military Force in Syria
Proposed by: President Barack Obama


Several lawmakers have proposed versions of an AUMF, and other bills related to military strategy against ISIS:


S.1587: Authority for the Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Act
Sponsor: Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA]


H.J.Res.33: Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Sponsor: Rep. Kinzinger, Adam [R-IL-16]


H.J.Res.30: Comprehensive Solution to ISIL Resolution
Sponsor: Rep. Lee, Barbara [D-CA-13]


H.J.Res.27: Authorization for Use of Military Force Against ISIL Resolution
Sponsor: Rep. Schiff, Adam B. [D-CA-28]


HRes. 139: Condemning violence against religious minorities in the Middle East and any actions that limit the free expression and practice of faith by these minorities.
Sponsor: Rep. Black, Diane [R-TN-6]


HJ.Res. 269 A resolution expressing the sense of the House
Sponsor: Rep. Smith, Christopher H. [R-NJ-4]

[T]hat: the United States should urge the government of Syria and other parties to the civil war in Syria to implement an immediate cease fire and engage in negotiations to end the bloodshed; the United States should declare that it is a requirement of basic justice that war crimes and crimes against humanity, whether committed by officials of the government of Syria or other parties to the civil war in Syria, should be investigated and prosecuted; the President should direct the U.S. representative to the United Nations to promote the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal; the United States should continue its efforts to collect and analyze documentation related to ongoing violations of human rights and make collection of information that can be supplied to a Syrian war crimes tribunal a priority; in working with other countries to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal the United States should promote judicial procedures that enable the prosecution of the most culpable persons guilty of directing such crimes; the United States should urge other interested states to apprehend and deliver into the custody of a Syrian war crimes tribunal persons indicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity in Syria, and urge such states to provide relevant information to the tribunal.


U.S. Refugee Policies

On September 20, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US would increase the number of worldwide refugees it accepts:

Under the new plan, the limit on annual refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year.


The announcement was met with criticism from some activists who said it was too little:

“This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II.” — Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First

Eighteen US Mayors signed a letter in support of the President’s plan, indicating that their cities welcomed refugees.

After the Paris attacks on November 13th, some elected officials suggested a link between recent refugees and terrorist activity and called for a limit to expanded refugee policies for the U.S. In recent days, nine governors said that they would “at least resist temporarily” refugee resettlement in their states. Texas Governor Greg Abbot sent a letter to President Obama, saying that the has instructed Texas agencies to not participate in refugee resettlement programs, though some question the legality of such an order. On Monday, CNN reported that “more than half the nation’s governors say Syrian refugees not welcome.”

Despite the push-back, Administration officials have said that the new plan will proceed. Congressional Democrats are rallying around the President’s plan. According to the Huffington Post, House Speaker Paul Ryan may move legislation regarding Syrian refugees through the House as early as this week.


Limits on refugee policy as part of spending bills?

On Monday, Senator Pete Sessions, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, sent a letter to Senate colleagues:

“to respectfully request that any upcoming appropriations legislation – including any Omnibus legislation – require Congressional approval for the President’s refugee resettlement plans and the funds to carry them out.”


Below, we highlight pending bills on the topic. But first, some background about the current policy.



Who is a refugee?

  • Refugees are forced to flee due to war, conflict or persecution and cross a border into a new country to find safety. (See full definition from USCIS)
  • Internally Displaced People (or IDPs) are forced to flee due to war, conflict or persecution and move into safer areas within their country.
  • Immigrants are people who leave their country by choice. They choose to live somewhere else for any number of personal reasons.
  • Migrants also leave their country by choice, in order to improve their livelihood, usually for economic reasons.

How do refugees enter the United States?

  1. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, each year, the President makes an annual “determination on refugee admissions” setting refugee admissions numbers, after consultation with Congress. (Read the 2016 Presidential Determination.)
  2. A person must be referred by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee (USRAP processes referrals from the State Department, UNHCR, Resettlement Support Centers, DHS, Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement, International Organization for Migration (IOM), and non-governmental associations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
  3. Eligibility is determined “on a case-by-case basis through an interview with a specially-trained USCIS officer,” who “confirm[s] that security checks have been completed and the results of the checks are reviewed and analyzed before approval.”
  4. Refugees then undergo additional security checks, a medical check, are matched with a voluntary local sponsor agency, and given cultural orientation.
  5. Before departing for the U.S., refugees are given an additional pre-departure security check.

“it currently takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or even longer to process a case from referral or application to arrival in the United States.” – Background Briefing On the Mechanics of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, September 11, 2015

See: This Is How the Syrian Refugee Screening Process WorksTime magazine

Pending Bills about US Refugee Policy:

H.R. 4017: To recognize that Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya are targets of genocide, and to provide for the expedited processing of immigrant and refugee visas for such individuals
Sponsor: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R, CA]


S.2145: Middle East Refugee Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2016
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]


H.R. 2839: To reform and modernize domestic refugee resettlement programs.
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Pascrell [D, NJ]


H.Res. 435: Recognizing the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, especially Christians and Yezidis, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Daesh, and calling for the immediate prioritization of accepting refugees from such communities.
Sponsor: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard [D, HI]


H.R. 2798 Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act
Sponsor: Rep. Keith Ellison [D, MN]


S.1615 Domestic Refugee Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act of 2015
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]


H.R. 3573 Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Michael McCaul [R, TX]


H.R. 3314 Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard [D, HI]


S.Res. 268 A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the Syrian refugee crisis
Sponsor: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen [D, NH]


the scale and complexity of the Syrian refugee crisis and the need for the international community to work together to provide resources and capacity to aid refugees; the humanitarian commitment of Syria’s neighbors who have worked to absorb the vast majority of refugees, as well as the European nations who have made commitments to share in the refugee resettlement effort; and that the refugee crisis is a symptom of the broader conflict in Syria, the persecution of persons based on identity groups, including Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, and Kurds, and instability in the Middle East and North Africa, and that efforts to resolve those challenges are a necessary component of any plan to address the refugee crisis. Welcomes the President’s decision to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, and to increase the overall number of refugees received by the United States to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017.

Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in graphics” – BBC




We will update as new bills are introduced.

Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.





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