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Arizona senator’s bill would require screenings for those who went to Syria, Iraq

(Robert Nyholm/TT via AP)
LISTEN: U.S Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) - Bill to force Europeans who have been to Syria, Iraq to get U.S. visas

PHOENIX — A bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) would require certain people who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to pass a visa application process before being allowed into the United States.

Flake said his bill would only affect travelers in the countries that participate in the visa waiver program. Essentially, travelers from these countries are allowed to enter the U.S. without undergoing additional screening and can stay up to 90 days with a valid passport.

Most of the 38 countries on the list are European, including France, the target of a recent terror attack.

“Those are real vulnerabilities, especially when you realize the terrorists in France where homegrown,” Flake told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Thursday. “They had French or Belgian passports.”

Flake’s bill would require visitors from those countries who have traveled to Syria or Iraq within the last five years to complete the visa application process before they are allowed into the U.S.

The bill was created after attacks that left 129 dead and 352 injured in Paris last week.

In the wake of the attacks, multiple U.S. governors — including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey — have demanded the federal government stop allowing refugees, including those fleeing the Syrian civil war, into the country.

“I don’t blame anybody for having concerns,” he said, adding that the Obama administration has done a poor job of explaining the refugee vetting process.

But Flake said the refugee process shouldn’t be a concern.

“It’s a long process for Syrian refugees to come to the United States,” he said.

In addition to the long process, Flake said only about 2 percent of refugees fit a “profile we ought to worry about:” Military-aged men with no familial ties.

However, Flake did say there are some minor gaps in the refugee system, especially with the Department of Homeland Security. Refugees are required to register with the agency for legal permanent resident status within one year of their arrival, but that doesn’t always happen.

Republican president candidate Ted Cruz said earlier this week that he planned to introduce legislation that would only allow Christian Syrians into the nation, but Flake said he disagrees with the idea.

“I don’t think that we want to get in a position where we’re having a religious test for people we’re bringing into the country,” Flake said.

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