Bay Area refugee organizations concerned about blocking Syrians caught in the middle

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Many U.S. lawmakers are pointing to the Paris attacks as a reason to restrict refugees from entering the country. Despite a veto threat, a bill putting new restrictions on refugees passed with more than a two-thirds majority in the House Thursday afternoon.

The East Bay is home to the largest number of Syrian refugees who come to the Bay Area. A local group that helps resettle them believes what has been forgotten is that those refugees went through a security check that in many cases lasted two years or longer.

READ MORE: House votes to curb Syrian refugees, snubs Obama veto threat

Refugees seeking to escape ISIS are now caught in different kind of battle -- a battle over what's the best way to insure that terrorists aren't slipping in with them and threatening homeland security.

"We do understand that there is a worry and a fear about security, but that has been something that has been addressed for a long time in refugee resettlement," Karen Ferguson, Ph.D., said.

Ferguson is hoping there is a middle ground. She is executive director of the International Rescue Committee Northern California, which helps arriving refugees adjust to a new life in the U.S. She hopes Americans will recognize that Syrians also fear the terror of ISIS.

"For the individual on the street, it's to remember the face of the person on the other side of these decisions, the families that are fleeing exactly this kind of terror and horror," Ferguson said.

Forty-seven Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the GOP-backed bill to tighten background checks on refugee applicants, pushing the vote past a veto-proof two-third majority.

"When we have indications that some of the Paris bombers -- one at least -- may have come through the refugee routes, don't you think that common sense dictates that we should take a pause?" Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

"We have incredibly rigorous screening process for when we accept refugees. Most refugees, as we've learned, that we're accepting, are mothers and children and old men," Sen. Harry Reid , D-Nevada, said.

However, California senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein believes a better approach is restricting gun sales and visa waivers that allow millions to enter the U.S. with little scrutiny.

VIDEO:Syrian refugee talks about moving to Bay Area

A Syrian refugee who now calls the Bay Area home is afraid of what's next for his family stuck overseas.

Mohamod Alnukta now lives in Oakland, but just eight months ago, he lived in limbo. His parents and siblings are out of Syria and waiting in Jordan. But with Thursday's congressional vote to not accept any new Syrian refugees into the U.S., he doesn't know when or if they'll be reunited.

Catholic Charities of the East Bay helps resettle 150 refugee families a year. Alnukta's family is the only one who made it out of Syria and into Oakland.

Alnukta told ABC7 News living in America is a dream for him.

It took him, his wife, and two daughters two years to get to the Bay Area after escaping Bashar al-Assad's regime. Catholic Charities helped them find housing, jobs and other services. Still, there have been huge challenges for Alnukta because, he not only left the rest of his family behind, but he left his whole culture.

Now the organization huddles to figure out what it means if the U.S. puts extra scrutiny on one group.

"The refugees that arrive in the U.S. are probably the most thoroughly vetted group of people arriving in the U.S." Christopher Martinez from Catholic Charities of the East Bay said.

Eight months into his American life, Alnukta still waits for his parents and his siblings stuck in Jordan.

He says in Arabic that he would like Americans to embrace Syrian refugees, that they need a place where they are safe.

In the current political climate, he wonders how long it will be before the next Syrian family's folder is cleared for arrival.
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