Don’t slam door on refugees or tourists

Sen. Dianne Feinstein points to the embedded chip in her passport as she talks last month about a bill to stiffen requirements on visitors to the U.S.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein points to the embedded chip in her passport as she talks last month about a bill to stiffen requirements on visitors to the U.S. The Associated Press

It’s bad enough that House Republicans played on our worst fears with their repugnant bill to slam the door on Syrian refugees.

Even worse, some Republicans are now willing to risk financial calamity by threatening a federal government shutdown to block the Obama administration’s plan to admit 10,000 refugees during the next year.

Everyone wants to prevent terrorists from entering America. The issue is how to aim any new restrictions at the highest-risk threats, and how to do this in a way that doesn’t undermine our values.

As we and others have pointed out, the vast majority of refugees are likely to be women and children. Very few young men, who are the more likely jihadists, will be resettled, and only after thorough screening.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California rightly said that “we can’t completely abandon innocent Syrian civilians in need” and pointed out that there’s far less vetting of visitors than refugees.

But the alternative legislation she’s now offering may be too broad.

It makes perfect sense to require visas – which means an in-person interview and fingerprints and photos – of anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria during the past five years. All the suspects identified so far in the Paris attacks were European citizens, not refugees. Thousands of Europeans have gone to fight for the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. The bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday also calls for more intelligence sharing between the U.S. and our allies to spot potential terrorists, another logical move.

More problematic, however, the bill would require all visitors who want to travel to the U.S. without a visa to be fingerprinted and photographed before leaving their home country. That could be impractical and could discourage tourism, an important industry in California and across the country.

Feinstein’s office downplays those concerns, but each year about 20 million foreigners take advantage of the waiver that allows citizens of 38 countries – mostly in Europe, but also close allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea – to visit the U.S. without a visa.

It should be noted that if the San Bernardino massacre was inspired by terrorist ideology, the shooters were a U.S. citizen and his wife, who entered under a fiancée visa. Neither would have been covered by this measure or the House GOP refugee bill.

While Feinstein’s bill can be fashioned into something useful, the blunt instrument that is the refugee bill fully deserves the veto that President Barack Obama has promised if it reaches his desk. It may not get that far: While the measure passed with a veto-proof majority last month, Senate Democrats vow to block it.

So to stop refugees, the most rabid House Republicans are recklessly looking at the $1.1 trillion spending bill that must be passed by Dec. 11 to avoid another shutdown, which would surely damage the economy as the ones in 1996 and 2012 did.

And get this: This week, House Republicans have repeatedly blocked consideration of a measure to close a loophole that allows people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list to buy guns. Senate Republicans voted down similar proposals Thursday. That just shows how much the GOP is in thrall to the National Rifle Association, and how much their tough words after the Paris attacks are about politics.