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Concerns With Strengthening The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program

The attacks in Paris raised concerns on both sides of the Atlantic after investigators discovered a Syrian passport near the remains of one of the suicide bombers connected with ISIS. Instantly, conversations erupted amongst U.S. politicians on whether to continue accepting Syrian refugees. New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D) said, “a pause may be necessary” on the entry of Syrians fleeing civil war.[1] Even more, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) emphasized their support to curb Syrian refugees from entering, and called on the Obama administration to “put [the] plans on hold.”[2]

In a 289-137 vote on Thursday, the House passed a bill imposing stricter security measures on Syrian and Iraqi refugees.[3] President Obama responded that he would veto the bill if passed by the Senate, despite 50 House democrats supporting the bill.[4] The administration argued that the bill “provide[s] no meaningful additional security for the American people” and requires additional certification requirements that “effectively end[s] the refugee program.”[5] Antithetically, politicians and protesters raised national security concerns after ISIS threatened to attack New York City.[6] Arguments suggest that the current standard under the U.S. Refugee Settlement Program provides ISIS members with an opportunity to again mask themselves as Syrian refugees to carry out further attacks. Thus, politicians are requesting the government adopts stricter refugee screenings.[7]

However, the United States Refugee Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-212) already subjects refugees to the “strictest form of security screening of any class of traveler to the U.S.”[8] The Act was established to provide refugees with a systematic process to receive admission into the United States, and to create provisions for their resettlement into the nation.[9] On Friday, the White House released a graphic demonstrating the arduous screening process refugees currently experience.[10] That process is currently estimated to take an applicant over a year to complete.[11]

First, applicants identify themselves to the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and then undergo initial assessments and interviews.[12] Next, U.S. security agencies (FBI, Homeland Security, State Department, and National Counterterrorism Center) then screen the candidates.[13] This process is repeated any time new information about an applicant is identified.[14] Further, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interviews applicants, collects fingerprints, and runs additional security checks through DHS, FBI, and DOD databases.[15] Thereafter, applicants receive a medical examination to treat any “communicable diseases.”[16] After all appropriate security checks are complete and an applicant is cleared for travel, nine national resettlement agencies process the refugees and determine how they will be distributed.[17]

If at any time throughout the screening process an applicant is believed to seek asylum solely for the purpose of engaging in unlawful activity or is found to have engaged in terrorist activity, then under 8 U.S. Code § 1182 the applicant is deemed inadmissible to enter the U.S.[18] However, politicians believe the current system is flawed, and requires stricter policies in order to fully screen Syrian applicants for any connections with ISIS. Accordingly, the House proposed stricter screening policies through its bill passed on Thursday.

The “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015” requires the Director of the FBI to certify each applicant “has received a background investigation that is sufficient to determine whether the covered alien is a threat to the security of the United States.”[19] Furthermore, the House demands the “Secretary of Homeland Security, with the unanimous concurrence of the Director of the [FBI] and the Director of National Intelligence certify to the appropriate Congressional committees that the covered alien is not a threat to the security of the United States.”[20] In addition, an annual applicant risk-assessment and monthly reports regarding application quantities are to be submitted to Congressional committees.[21] In essence, the House requires refugees path through additional doors in order to ensure ISIS members are sifted out of the application pool. These proposals received national attention, and accordingly received harsh analytical reviews.

As previously mentioned, the Obama administration opposed the House bill and claimed it provides no meaningful additional security for the American people.[22] U.S. News and World Report explained one reason why the legislation does not pass muster. Teresa Welsh provides a comparison between European refugee programs with the programs implemented in the United States.[23] Currently, Syrian refugees do not travel to the U.S. “via boat or land” as they do when traveling to Europe.[24] Nor do refugees “fly into the [U.S.] without being approved for refugee status.”[25] The application process “frequently takes 18 months or more, meaning refugees are arriving in the U.S. at a very slow pace compared to the numbers by which they are arriving in Europe.”[26] In conclusion, it appears that additional steps by the U.S. government to restrict refugees from entering the United States would only delay the process, not necessarily weed out any terrorist members.

The House bill certainly offers additional and strict oversight through its proposed micromanaged process, but as the Obama administration represented, the proposal could “effectively end the [current] refugee program.”[27] FBI Director James Comey even expressed his concerns regarding the proposal and said it would be “impossible” for him to personally sign off on every individual refugee’s application coming from Syria and Iraq.[28]

Despite the administration’s efforts to calm discussions, the thought of curbing Syrian refugees received overwhelming support after “five Syrians [attempted] to make their way to the United States with stolen and doctored passports.”[29] As of date, it’s believed they had no ties to terrorism, but nevertheless, they were attempting to fraudulently make their way to another nation.[30] Thus, a clarion call for stricter vetting processes has been made, and has received much criticism due to the magnitude of reports identifying national security threats to the United States. Regardless of any new proposal, the American people need reassurance that every attempt to protect this nation is being exhausted.

[1] Billy House, Kathleen Miller & Justin Sink, Schumer Joins Republicans Questioning Obama’s Refugee Plan, Bloomberg Politics (Nov. 16, 2015),

[2] Id.

[3] Christina Marcos, House Defies Obama, Approves Bill Halting Syrian Refugees, The Hill (Nov. 19, 2015),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Catherine E. Shoichet, Shimon Prokupecz & Ed Payne, New ISIS Video Threatens France, Italy, U.S., CNN (Nov. 19, 2015),

[7] Id.

[8] Teresa Welsh, 8 Facts About The U.S. Program To Resettle Syrian Refugees, U.S. News & World Report (Nov. 20, 2015),

[9] Refugee Act of 1980, 94 Stat. 102 (1980).

[10] Amy Pope, Infographic: The Screening Process for Refugee Entry into the United States, The White House (Nov. 20, 2015),

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Teresa Welsh, 8 Facts About The U.S. Program To Resettle Syrian Refugees, U.S. News & World Report (Nov. 20, 2015),

[18] Inadmissible Aliens, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2) (2006)

[19] American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015, H.R. 4038, 114th Cong. (2015)

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Christina Marcos, House Defies Obama, Approves Bill Halting Syrian Refugees, The Hill (Nov. 19, 2015),

[23] Teresa Welsh, 8 Facts About The U.S. Program To Resettle Syrian Refugees, U.S. News & World Report (Nov. 20, 2015),

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Christina Marcos, House Defies Obama, Approves Bill Halting Syrian Refugees, The Hill (Nov. 19, 2015),

[28] Christian Datoc, FBI Director: It’s ‘Impossible’ To Vet Every Single Syrian Refugee, The Daily Caller (Nov. 19, 2015),

[29] Syrians with Stolen Passports Caught Trying to Enter U.S., Police Say, Fox News (Nov. 18, 2015),

[30] Id.


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