In what the book of Proverbs might label an “imprudent” move, the Obama administration has pledged to slash the Syrian refugee screening time from an average 18 to 24 months to a mere three, The Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday. The move has met with outrage from some lawmakers who consider it dangerous and unwise.
The administration has committed to bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees — among 85,000 refugees overall — into the US in 2016. To do so, it plans to speed up the vetting process for claimants. Opponents of the proposal argue the longer vetting process is already flawed; speeding it up will only increase the risk of terrorists infiltrating the US in the guise of refugees.
“We know the 18- to 24-month vetting process for Syrian refugees has severe vulnerabilities after FBI Director James Comey warned about the federal government’s inability to thoroughly screen Syrian refugee applicants for terrorism risk and after the Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm warned about ISIS’s capability to print fake Syrian passports for terrorist infiltration,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) told the Free Beacon.
Officials have yet to outline how they plan to speed up the process without endangering US citizens.
“Given that the administration has not explained to the American people whether and how it fixed these and other known vulnerabilities to terrorist infiltration, it is highly irresponsible for the administration to reduce the 18- to 24-month vetting process for Syrian refugees down to three months to meet its artificial and ideologically-driven goal of bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees onto U.S. soil by September,” said Kirk. The senator has introduced legislation to enhance the existing screening measures to prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the system.
According to an unnamed State Department official, however, increased processing capacity will be used to meet the refugee targets without harming the vetting process.
“The United States remains committed to the president’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees and 85,000 refugees overall to the United States in fiscal year 2016,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on record. “This projected increase in arrivals from around the world, from 70,000 in each of the last three fiscal years, will not curtail any aspects of the process, including its robust security screening.
“While this increase in processing capacity and other efforts will decrease the overall processing time for individual families, the average processing time worldwide remains 18-24 months,” the official explained. “As we have said, neither this program nor any of our efforts to expand processing capacity curtail any aspects of the security, medical, or other screening.”
Besides Syria, the official said, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security are working together to move things along for applicants in Jordan.
“From February through April, additional staff were posted to Jordan, where they conducted interviews of over 12,000 [U.N.]-referred refugee applicants,” the official said. “All applicants are still subject to the same stringent security and medical requirements that apply to all applicants for U.S. refugee resettlement.”
Such assurances do little to assuage the concerns of congress members.
“The administration’s repeated assertions that the vetting process is ‘robust’ doesn’t provide any real assurances about a dangerously flawed vetting process that has allowed terrorists to infiltrate refugee flows from high-risk countries in the Middle East into the United States,” one senior congressional source told the Free Beacon.
“The vetting process clearly wasn’t ‘robust’ when it resettled two terrorists as refugees in Kentucky who were later arrested in 2011 after law enforcement officials learned, belatedly and through no small amount of luck, of the ties and material support of these individuals to ISIS’s precursor, al Qaeda in Iraq,” the source went on, noting that U.S. authorities do not have the tools to identify potential terrorists from these countries.
“While U.S. and coalition forces worked with Iraqi authorities to create databases for identifying terrorists during the Iraq conflict who might be infiltrating refugee flows, FBI Director Comey has made it clear in congressional testimony there is no equivalent capability today for identifying terrorists from the Syrian conflict who might seek to do the same,” the source said.