U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp worries that jihadists will be able to enter the United States if the country takes in a greater number of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria.
The Republican firebrand, who represents the First Congressional District, in northern and western Kansas, posted a link on Twitter to an article from the website Townhall.com about President Obama’s decision to take in 10,000 refugees.
“Statistically, how many of these will be radical Muslims who want to wage jihad on Americans?” Huelskamp asked.
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Obama’s decision to raise the cap on the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the United States from 1,500 to 10,000 follows mounting international pressure for the U.S. and other Western powers to shelter some of the 4 million refugees who have fled violence in Syria.
Jennifer Doran, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Wichita, said that refugees are the most security vetted group that comes to the U.S. They have rigorous background checks by the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and the State Department, she said.
“The refugee program is not the way an extremist terrorist would come to the United States,” Doran said.
“Refugees are fleeing violence,” she said. “They have been subjected to unspeakable violence at the hands of extremist groups and they’re seeking sanctuary. They want nothing more than to live safe and secure lives in the United States. … They’ve seen firsthand the destruction of extremist groups.”
A photograph of Syrian boy who washed up dead on a Turkish beach has become a powerful symbol internationally for the crisis as families flee the country, much of which is under the control of terrorist group ISIS.
Hussam Madi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita, called Huelskamp’s comment offensive. Madi said that Huelskamp “should ask that toddler that was found drowned, face down on the beach and ask him if he was a Muslim or otherwise.”
“These people are poor, fleeing war,” Madi said. “Just to have a statement in general like that, about all the refugees are coming out, I don’t think that’s fair, nor that it is just as a human being to treat other human beings (like that).”
Huelskamp’s office did not immediately respond to a question about whether his remarks could be seen as prejudiced toward Muslims.
Madi said that it would be up to country’s national security agencies to screen the refugees and ensure that none are entering with ill intent.
The number of refugees being allowed into the United States is relatively small compared with other nations; Germany expects to take in 800,000 refugees by the end of the year, according to CBS, for example.
Obama’s decision to increase the number has met with a backlash from many conservatives who fear it will allow terrorists to slip into the U.S.
However, Doran said that in the past week her organization has seen an increase in the number of people reaching out to ask how they can help refugees.
“I do think that Wichita community so far has indicated that they’re interested in refugees and that they’re interested in knowing how they can help,” she said. “That photograph caught a lot of people’s attention.”