A Syrian man and his daughter reach the beach on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast in a dinghy.

A Syrian man and his daughter reach the beach on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast in a dinghy. Santi Palacios / AP

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How the Debate Over Syrian Refugees Changed in an Instant

Lawmakers and governors are now scrambling to take the toughest line against admitting refugees to the U.S.

In the minds of many politi­cians, the icon­ic im­age of a dead Syr­i­an boy on the beach has been swept away by the Par­is ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

After at least 129 died Fri­day in the City of Light, France em­barked on a man­hunt that spread to Bel­gi­um. It struck the Is­lam­ic State in Raqqa, Syr­ia while the United States hit the ter­ror­ist group’s oil trucks for the first time. In an ad­dress Monday, Pres­id­ent Obama de­fen­ded his re­mark just a day be­fore the at­tack that the Is­lam­ic State has been “con­tained,” not­ing that the group con­trols less ter­rit­ory than it did last year.

But it’s clearly not enough for many gov­ernors and mem­bers of Con­gress, who point to a Syr­i­an pass­port found on the ground near the body of a sui­cide bomber as evid­ence that Syr­i­an refugees are too dan­ger­ous to come to their back­yard. Obama an­nounced two months ago that the U.S. would ac­cept at least 10,000 Syr­i­an refugees next year, up from around 2,000 refugees the coun­try ac­cep­ted in the past four-plus years of ter­rible con­flict. (Ger­many, Tur­key, Le­ban­on, Jordan, and oth­ers have taken the brunt of re­spons­ib­il­ity for the 4 mil­lion-plus Syr­i­an refugees, al­though the U.S. has provided $4.5 bil­lion—the most among any coun­try—in hu­man­it­ari­an aid.)

In the past few days, at least a dozen Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors and New Hamp­shire’s Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor, Mag­gie Has­san, have pro­tested the ar­rival of Syr­i­an refugees in­to their states un­til the vet­ting pro­cess has been defin­it­ively vet­ted. While leg­al schol­ars and ad­vocacy groups doubt that is with­in a gov­ernor’s au­thor­ity—the State De­part­ment said Monday its law­yers were look­ing in­to it—GOP law­makers an­nounced Monday that there would be over­sight hear­ings as soon as this week eye­ing the stream of refugees and le­gis­la­tion to lim­it them.

House Home­land Se­cur­ity Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul called to sus­pend their ad­mis­sion (back in Feb­ru­ary, he warned of a “fed­er­ally fun­ded ji­hadi pipeline”), as did Sen. Rob Port­man of Ohio, and the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Thursday to ex­am­ine the crisis. Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley is “ex­plor­ing” le­gis­la­tion to lim­it the flow of Syr­i­an refugees and look­ing at rem­ed­ies through the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess, ac­cord­ing to spokes­wo­man Beth Lev­ine. “Par­is changed things,” she ad­ded.

It was just Sept. 3—sev­er­al weeks ago—when front pages around the world showed a pic­ture of three year-old Ay­lan Kur­di, a Syr­i­an, washed up dead on a Turk­ish beach as a sober­ing sym­bol of the world’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II. A week later, Obama an­nounced his plan to dra­mat­ic­ally in­crease the num­ber of Syr­i­an refugees the U.S. would take. Around that time, GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates Marco Ru­bio and Don­ald Trump left the door open on tak­ing in some refugees. After the murders in Par­is, both have shut it, cit­ing na­tion­al se­cur­ity con­cerns; the lat­ter has said that the refugees could be “Tro­jan horses.”

The anti-refugee fever has hit the oth­er Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors run­ning for the White House. Rand Paul an­nounced a bill Monday that would sus­pend visas to those from “high-risk” coun­tries un­til Con­gress votes to re­approve them. And over the week­end, Ted Cruz said that Syr­ia’s Muslim refugees should be barred, al­though its Chris­ti­ans pose “no mean­ing­ful risk,” ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Even Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, a mar­gin­al GOP can­did­ate who in Oc­to­ber co­sponsored a bill for a bil­lion dol­lars in ad­di­tion­al spend­ing for the re­set­tle­ment of thou­sands more refugees, called for a “timeout” un­til “we have a sys­tem that we think will work.”

In re­sponse to a ques­tion by ra­dio host Hugh He­witt Monday, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, an­oth­er GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, said he had such little faith in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to vet Syr­i­an refugees that he doesn’t even think “orphans un­der 5” should be con­sidered. Tommy Vi­et­or, Obama’s former na­tion­al se­cur­ity spokes­man, noted on Twit­ter that Christie had pre­vi­ously poin­ted to Kur­di as a “sym­bol for this coun­try’s in­ac­tion and this pres­id­ent’s de­ceit.”

“This pres­id­ent has al­lowed these folks to be slaughtered,” Christie said in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post. “I frankly can’t ima­gine as pres­id­ent of the United States how you could per­mit this to hap­pen on this scale, and now we’re see­ing those res­ults. And it’s much dif­fer­ent when you read about it, and when you see it—it be­comes even more power­ful.”

Some Re­pub­lic­ans have pushed back on shut­ting down the Syr­i­an refugee pro­cess. On Monday, Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Chair­man Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin called for wo­men, chil­dren, and re­l­at­ives of Syr­i­an-Amer­ic­an cit­izens to be pri­or­it­ized in a thor­ough vet­ting pro­cess. “We’re a pretty com­pas­sion­ate so­ci­ety here,” John­son said, adding that Syr­ia is the host of a “gen­o­cide.”