Refugee Debate Grows: DeGette Holds Rally, Tipton Scolds Bennet, Hickenlooper

Photo: Syrian refugee family comes ashore
Syrian refugees climb up to a field after arriving from Turkey at the Greek island of Lesbos on an overcrowded dinghy, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.

Refugees are "widows. They're orphans. They're the most serious victims of these terrible wars in Syria and Iraq and other places," U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette said at a rally Friday in Denver. The Denver Democrat believes that Congress ought to be helping them, rather than putting up barriers to them as they try to come to the United States.

The issue driving the anti-refugee movement stems from fears that among the terrorists who struck in Paris last week were men who might have posed as Syrian refugees.

Colorado Republican U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, are sponsors of a bill to restrict refugees from coming to the U.S. by requiring extra screening. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, also called the American SAFE Act of 2015, passed the U.S. House on Thursday morning.

Photo: DeGette, refugee rally
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., at a rally Nov. 20.

Colorado Republicans Ken Buck and Mike Coffman also voted for the bill, as did Democratic Rep. Jared Polis -- one of 47 Democrats to join the Republicans. DeGette, along with fellow Democrat Ed Permutter, voted against it. Democrats said Friday they will block the refugee bill. President Barack Obama opposes the bill, and has threatened a veto if it reaches his desk.​

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, says he will not try to stand in the way of refugees who want to settle in Colorado, and also supports a strong vetting process for any refugees. He says refugees go through high-levels of security screening and that the vast majority of refugees are children and the elderly. More than half the nation's governor's, meantime, are trying to block resettlement of refugees, the Washington Post reports.

Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, has said he favors Arab states stepping up to help the refugees in order to ease the burden on countries outside of the war-torn region.

Bennet's Senate counterpart, Cory Gardner, a Republican, said earlier this week, "The bottom line is this: We need to know who's coming into this country.

"All of us owe our constituencies the due diligence of making sure the people coming into this country will not do them harm."

Tipton issued a statement Friday rebuking both Hickenlooper and Bennet.

"This is a commonsense security measure with broad support, and yet it’s been radio silence from Senator Bennet while Harry Reid threatens to block even debating it in the Senate. Governor Hickenlooper refused to take a stand for the people of Colorado on this issue," he said in the statement.

DeGette told about two dozen supporters at her rally that, "To demagogue this Paris terrorist issue by somehow trying to restrict refugee rights is really I think not in the American spirit."

Colorado officials say 19 Syrian refugees have come to the state since 1980, but none since the Syrian civil war started four years ago. Refugee coordinator Kit Taintor told Colorado Matters in September that the state will probably resettle about 2 percent of the 10,000 Syrians who may be resettled across the country next year.

Karen Jacobsen, who directs the Refugees and Forced Migration Program at Tufts University in Boston, says people wanting to pull off an attack in the U.S. would likely have an easier time entering on a tourist or business visa.

The Refugee Act of 1980 dictates that refugee resettlement within the United States is managed by the federal government. Individual states do not have the legal authority to block refugee placement.

Vic Vela, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.