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110,000 Refugees Goal Sparks Debate over Terrorist Entry into US

110,000 Refugees Goal Sparks Debate over Terrorist Entry into US Homeland Security TodayJust days after the nation mourned the 15th anniversary of the tragic September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss the status of US efforts to identify and shut down terrorist pathways into the United States.

The House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommitteeon Border and Maritime Security held a hearing on Wednesday to examine the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prevent foreign fighters from attempting to enter the United States to launch attacks on the homeland.

“We know that jihadists are looking at every route into America, from sneaking across the Southwest Border to flying in as tourists and refugees,” said Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

During the hearing, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Chairman John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) expressed concern over the recent announcement that President Obama plans to set the refugee ceiling at 110,000 in the coming year, which represents an increase of 30 percent over the 85,000 accepted last year.

The 110,000 figure is likely to include a large number of Syrian refugees, which has spurred a heated controversy over the likelihood that terrorists could exploit the refugee process to gain entry into the United States.

As Homeland Security Today previously reported, exploitation of the refugee process is not unprecedented. Back in May 2011, for example, two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Bowling Green, Ky., and charged with 21 offenses, including conspiracy to kill US nationals abroad and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.

Ratcliffe questioned how the United States can determine that a refugee does not pose a threat without having adequate information on them. He stated, “I will remind folks of what FBI Director Comey said before this committee: ‘We can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing that shows up because we have no record of them.’”

Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Leon Rodriguez said the 110,000 figure includes refugees from all over the world, and it has not yet been determined how many of those will be from Syria. Furthermore, he explained that the United States maintains a robust, multilayered refugee screening process, which includes the use of various law enforcement and counterterrorism databases and interviews of refugees by highly trained law enforcement officers.

“All of those provide us with a number of very powerful safeguards. In fact, many people have been denied precisely because of information that has been identified in law enforcement and counterintelligence databases,” Rodriquez said.

Ratcliffe responded by noting that the United States does have a more stringent screening process than our European counterparts. However, it is imperative that we are able to determine with complete certainty that refugees seeking safe haven on American shores do not have terrorist ties.

“Once they are here, what is DHS doing to continue monitoring the refugees?” Ratcliffe added.

Rodriguez said refugees are subject to an “interagency check” which occurs before travel. He also noted that the refugees must reappear before USCIS again one year after arriving in the United States for adjustment of status, which includes a whole new round of checks.

DHS’s Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Francis X. Taylor added that Comey was correct in saying the United States has less information on Syrian refugees than on others, such as Iraqi refugees. However, he stated, “The absence of specific information on these refugees does not mean we do not have any information.”

The debate over the White House’s 2017 refugee resettlement plans extends beyond the Subcommittee’s hearing. Shortly following the announcement, several Republicans began pushing back. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) released a statement calling for reforms to the nation’s refugee process.

“We must remain compassionate toward refugees but we also need to make sure that we use commonsense,” Goodlatte said. “Unfortunately, President Obama unilaterally increases the number of refugees resettled in the United States each year and gives little thought as to how it will impact local communities.”

“The President also continues to ignore warnings from his own national security officials and plans to bring in even more Syrian refugees over the next year,” Goodlatte added.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called the President’s refugee plans “reckless,” and said there have already been multiple attempts to exploit the refugee crisis. Sessions also noted that the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Secretary of Homeland Security have acknowledged that terrorists could use the refugee process to gain entry into the United States.

“Indeed, just this past weekend, Germany’s Interior Minister said that there are more than 500 terrorists inside Germany alone who are capable of carrying out terrorist attacks,” Sessions said. “It is all but certain that many of those potential terrorists exploited the refugee crisis to get to Germany, and that there are likely thousands more all across Europe today.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said the arrest of the three Syrian refugees in Germany who were linked to the November 2015 Paris attacks highlight the importance of robust security vetting of refugees.

“ISIS will always exploit loopholes in our security, and the arrests in Germany remind us more than ever that partisanship cannot undermine our national security. This must stop,” Kirk stated.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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