USCIS Official Struggles to Explain Efficacy of Syrian Refugees Vetting Process

Calais Migrant Camps
AFP Photo/Philippe Huguen

An Obama administration official struggled to quell concerns about the level of vetting Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. receive prior to entry at a Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest hearing Thursday.

In an exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the subcommittee chairman, Matthew Emrich, the associate director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ fraud division, was left speechless several times as the Alabama lawmaker sought assurances that screening processes would be effective.

“I would be happy to — we’d be happy to brief you in another setting on some of the ways that we have to do this,” Emrich said when pressed on the level and reliability of databases to analyze refugee applicants from Syria.

Sessions pressed Emrich to offer the American people assurance that the vetting process will keep them safe, asking “Aren’t you left to basically looking at whatever document [the Syrian refugees] produce in conducting an interview?”

Emrich said, adding that the process also includes an interview:

I can assure the american people that we have a robust series of screening measures here that encompass the wide range of U.S. government resources that involve U.S. law enforcement agencies and intelligence community members, that these processes and these screening measures are constantly reviewed, that we are continuously looking at ways to improve these, that they incorporate both biometric and biographic checks.

Sessions expressed incredulity at the idea that the vetting process would be effective without comprehensive, verifiable databases. Sessions said:

Mr. Emrich. there’s no way you can do background checks of any significance. I’m sure we have some intelligence data on a number of people throughout the region, and if you get a hit on that, I’m sure you would reject them. But you have only a minuscule number of people that have been identified, I’m sure, in that fashion. And I don’t believe you you can tell us, with any certainty, that you have an ability to conduct an efficient background check.

He continued, pressing Emrich on whether the administration would have the ability to send an investigator to the region to verify refugees’ claims.

“While we do not have the ability to send an investigator to Syria, we do have resources we can use to verify various elements of someone’s testimony and story,” Emrich responded.

Emrich was not, however, able to offer Sessions assurances that the majority of refugee applicants would be able to be screened against independent, quality databases.


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