(CNSNews.com) -- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) accused fellow members of Congress who posed for photos with Pope Francis of not heeding the pontiff's message and voting to make it more difficult for Syrian refugees to enter the U.S:
“Sadly, many of the people who were posing for holy pictures that day forgot his message when he came to this joint session of Congress [in September]," Durbin said Tuesday at a press conference in Washington.
“It was a message to remind us that we are a nation of immigrants as his nation was a nation of immigrants, and that part of our responsibility is to welcome the stranger,” Durbin said.
"Many of the same people who posed for those pictures with the pope were quick to vote, just a few weeks ago, to shun refugees seeking refuge in the United States....
"The good news is that many of those who voted in the House just a few weeks ago to shun these refugees are now publicly recanting on both sides of the aisle,...
"We can keep America safe and we can keep our values safe by receiving and accepting these refugees," Durbin concluded.
In a previous statement, Durbin said that Congress risks falling into the terrorists’ “trap” by trying to halt the refugee program.
“There may be a tendency to panic after these attacks [such as the one in San Bernardino], but oftentimes our first reactions are overreactions. Make no mistake: that is precisely what terrorists want.
"They commit these atrocities to disrupt our lives, make us look over our shoulders, and to turn neighbor against neighbor in fear. We cannot allow the United States to fall into that trap."
Joining Durbin at the press conference were Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) in addition to several Muslim and Protestant religious leaders.
McCarrick expressed a strong faith in the security of America’s refugee vetting process.
“The United States has the most secure refugee resettlement process in the world,” the cardinal said. “Refugees are the most scrutinized and screened individuals to enter the United States. There is absolutely no reason to stop or pause the resettlement of Syrian refugees. The fear around this is wrong and as people of faith, we must demand more from our public officials.”
Sen. Leahy agreed: "Accepting refugees is a part of our history, our culture, of who we are, and it can be done safely with the proper screening procedures. ... If we respond by closing our doors, all we do is give help to our enemies.”
However, their confidence in the ability of U.S. authorities to adequately vet refugees from the Middle East flies in the face of FBI Director James Comey’s congressional testimony last October on the danger of ISIS infiltrating refugees from Syria.
“We do see a risk,” Comey said at the time. “We can query our databases until the cows come home but…you can only query what you have collected.”
Comey said the vetting process has “improved dramatically", but admitted that “a number of people who were of serious concern” managed to slip through with Iraq War refugees
He added that Syrians are even harder to vet because U.S. troops were not in the area investigating locals as they did in Iraq.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson agreed. “We know that organizations such as ISIL might like to try to exploit this program,” he said.“It is true that we’re not going to know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth in this process. That definitely is a challenge.”