Pa. Senate Votes to Block Syrian Refugees

John P. Sabatina Jr. was the only state senator from Philadelphia to vote for the bill, which is non-binding and will have no effects whatsoever.

State Capitol in Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a resolution today that calls for a ban on Syrian refugees in the state. This is a rebuke to Gov. Tom Wolf, who said after the attacks in Paris that refugees fleeing war-torn Syria were welcome in Pennsylvania.

The vote, which passed by an overwhelming 37-13 margin, is completely symbolic: It requires no action. And since immigration law is federal —according to the Refugee Act of 1980 states do not have the power to reject refugees — even Wolf’s welcoming gesture is symbolic.

Several local lawmakers, including state senators Anthony Williams and Daylin Leach, spoke out against the measure. Williams attempted to table the resolution today, but it failed. “The Home of the Brave should lead the world in accepting refugees,” Leach said.

Senate Resolution 248 says the current vetting process for refugees is not stringent enough.

“Despite our sympathy for the plight of innocent Syrians trying to escape the horrors of their war-torn region, this raises concerns that the security vetting procedures used in addressing the Syrian migrant crisis are completely inadequate,” the resolution reads. It cites a fake Syrian passport found on one of the suicide bombers who attacked Paris on November 13th.

The refugee screening process takes years, Leach said on the floor of the Senate. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, an advocacy group, says screening is a 13-step process.

“We must embrace and embody the words found at our nation’s front door, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty,” Leach wrote at PennLive today before the vote. “Are we going to let the actions of a few terrorist thugs cause us to abandon our basic humanity?”

The resolution says no refugees should be accepted in Pennsylvania until “such time as systems are in place to conduct effective and thorough security and background checks on Syrian refugees and to send a report detailing the increased measures to the states that are under consideration to receive Syrian refugees.” It’s not clear what senators who voted for the legislation want to change about the current screening process.

Only one Philadelphia lawmaker voted for the bill, Democratic Sen. John P. Sabatina Jr. A message left with Sabatina’s office was not yet returned. The resolution was sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty, a Republican in Montgomery County.

“The issues that have arisen since the Paris attacks have raised concerns that the security vetting procedures used in this migrant crisis may be inadequate,” Rafferty said on the floor. “It makes sense to pause and to make sure our procedures are appropriate.”

Senate Resolution 248