CA Congressional delegation divided on refugees as crisis spikes

syrian refugeesKey Democrats in California’s Congressional delegation broke with President Obama on refugee policy, handing Congressional Republicans a veto-proof majority vote against him. “An Obama administration push urging lawmakers to oppose legislation that would effectively halt a program for refugees from Syria and Iraq failed to convince eight California Democrats who joined their Republican colleagues Thursday to pass the measure,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The California Democrats voting in favor of the measure were [Rep. Scott] Peters [(San Diego)] and Reps. Pete Aguilar (Redlands), Ami Bera (Elk Grove), Julia Brownley (Westlake Village), Jim Costa (Fresno), John Garamendi (Walnut Grove), Janice Hahn (Los Angeles) and Raul Ruiz (Palm Desert).”

Democrats divided

Already reeling from a string of losses under Obama at the state and federal level, nervous Democrats nationwide proved too hard to convince to go along with the president. “New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is challenging Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in her bid for reelection, urged the federal government to stop accepting Syrian refugees until the process is reviewed. Nevada Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto wants U.S. intelligence officials to sign off on the vetting process before admitting more refugees. And former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, aiming to unseat GOP Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio, joined the chorus,” Politico observed, “calling for a ‘short-term pause’ in the resettlement program.”

But many California Democrats have sided firmly in favor of fast-tracking more Syrian refugees, many of which have already settled in Southland locales such as San Diego. And some lawmakers explicitly linked the plight of the current group of refugees with their families’ own. Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., of Pomona, visited the Islamic Center of Claremont “to meet with members of two Syrian families who arrived in Southern California this fall,” the Times reported separately. “The stories she heard from the Kanjou and Wawieh families, about fleeing the violence of Syria and journeying through Lebanon and Egypt before arriving in Pomona, were familiar. Torres came from war-torn Guatemala to live with an uncle in Los Angeles when she was five years old.”

A spiking problem

The comparison has turned out to be well-timed. Adding to the controversy and raising the stakes, border officials have suddenly seen a significant spike in unauthorized crossings, reminiscent of the surge into Texas last year of surprising numbers of women and children. But rather than the kinds of economically-motivated unlawful immigrants who have become poster figures in California’s border debate, the current wave of includes many “women and children fleeing vicious gangs and endemic sexual violence in Central America who are hoping for asylum in the United States. Rather than hiding from Border Patrol agents they often try to find them, to ask for protection and start the long legal battle to remain here,” according to the New York Times.

“In October, the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, said uncontrolled violence by the gangs had become ‘pervasive’ in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. He issued an ‘early warning’ of ‘a looming refugee crisis.’ A report by his agency found that women in particular ‘face a startling degree of violence that has a devastating impact on their daily lives.’ According to United Nations figures, this year El Salvador moved into first place in the world for the rate of murders of women and Guatemala ranked third, while Honduras had the highest murder rate over all.”

Politically, the situation could play into the hands of those Democrats still rallying around President Obama, who has castigated Republicans nationwide for opposing the increase in Syrian and Iraqi refugees he has targeted. “Apparently they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America,” he remarked, The Hill reported. “At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.”

Pushing back amid the debate over the Congressional vote on Obama’s proposed policy, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., used his opportunity during a recent hearing as chairman of the House Judiciary subpanel on immigration to say of Obama that “with all due respect to him, what I’m afraid of is a foreign policy that creates more widows and orphans,” The Hill noted.

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