The 2013 immigration bill "expanded President Obama’s ability to bring Syrian refugees to this country without mandating any meaningful background checks."

Ted Cruz on Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 in a town hall event in Windham, N.H.


Cruz repeats False attack about immigration bill letting Syrians in U.S. without background checks

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz compared himself to Ronald Reagan while campaigning in New Hampshire.

Fresh from his victory in Iowa, Ted Cruz faced his first group of New Hampshire voters at the Crossing Life Church in Windham, N.H. They asked him about many things, from protecting the rights of the disabled to the 2013 immigration bill, once backed by GOP rival Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

An audience member asked Cruz to clarify his immigration position.

Cruz has taken heat for introducing an amendment to the bill to provide legal status to undocumented immigrants. Cruz defended that move as parliamentary maneuver to help defeat bad legislation; Rubio said it showed Cruz's actual postion. (S. 744 passed the Senate, with Cruz voting no, but wasn’t taken up in the House.)

But in criticizing the original bill, Cruz noted a failing that would have special resonance today.

"The bill expanded President Obama’s ability to bring Syrian refugees to this country without mandating any meaningful background checks," Cruz said.

We checked a very similar assertion Cruz made in December during a GOP debate in Las Vegas. His case was thin then and remains so today.

The Cruz campaign did not respond for a request for comment.

In December, Cruz was a bit more absolute. He said the bill gave Obama "blanket authority" without "mandating any background checks whatsoever."  In Windham, he said it expanded the president’s authority without "mandating any meaningful" background checks. The most recent version is more nuanced, but still inaccurate.

The heart of the assertion is that the immigration bill would have given the Obama administration power to define who is considered stateless. That designation would identify people who had no country to which the United States could send them. If refugees fleeing Syria were called stateless, the argument was that they could be admitted without vetting.

David Bier, the director of immigration policy at the libertarian Niskanen Center, told us in December that the immigration bill specifically stated that all refugees would still be subject to background checks. The average screening time for refugees from across the globe is between a year to a year and a half, involving background checks, interviews and confirmation from several federal agencies.

The "stateless" classification wouldn’t have been for refugees aiming to get into the United States, said Joanne Kelsey, the assistant director for advocacy at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which helps resettle refugees. She explained that only people who are already in the country would face this situation.

Another part of the bill about specially designating certain groups of refugees, Section 3403, is an attempt to codify something called the Lautenberg Amendment, an immigration provision that has been in effect since 1989 and must be renewed each year. The amendment has traditionally been aimed at certain religious minorities.

By law, refugees seeking asylum in the United States must prove they have a "well founded fear of persecution." Our expert sources said Section 3403 would have allowed the president to designate a group of interest to the United States as being persecuted as a whole. Think Christians in Syria or Yazidis in Iraq targeted by the Islamic State.

Basically, it allows potential refugees to get in line faster. But instead of making individuals prove they are in danger, the threat would already be associated with their group, moving the rest of the screening process along.

The bill’s aim was to streamline the vetting process for refugees, not get rid of it.

"It doesn’t create refugees or allow more refugees to come to the United States," Bier said. "They would still be subject to the normal refugee limit. It would create no additional numbers, but would increase, perhaps, the eligible pool of applicants."

The experts we reached all agreed that the immigration bill required background checks for refugees and to the extent that it gave the administration more flexibility, that leeway applied to people already in the country, not those seeking to get in.

Our ruling

Cruz said the failed immigration bill "expanded President Obama’s ability to bring Syrian refugees to this country without mandating any meaningful background checks."

The key flaw with that assertion is the bill still required background checks for refugees. While there can be some debate over what constitutes a "meaningful" background check, the experts we reached said nothing would have directly changed the quality of the vetting performed on people attempting to enter the country.

We rate this claim False.



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