Obama administration officials told the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security has approved approximately 90% of refugee applications from Syrians despite not having and adequate way to run background checks. The oversight hearing was the first time Congress has examined the administration’s procedures since the Syrian Refugee crisis started making headlines.
The hearing was the first on Obama’s plan to bring more Syrian refugees into the U.S. and the economic and security concerns posed by this plan. Currently, President Obama is proposing to increase the refugee cap from 70,000 to 85,000 next year, then another increase to 100,000 in 2017. The administration has said that at least 10,000 of the additional refugees next year will be from Syria.
At the hearing Barbara Strack, the Chief of the Refugee Affairs Division of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), admitted that 90% of Syrian refugee applications have been approved. That is a higher rate than the overall refugee application approval rate of 80%.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Chairman of the Senate Immigration and the National Interest Subcommittee, asked the Obama officials about their terrorist screening process when so little information is available. Sessions repeated that Michael Steinbach, a top FBI counter-terrorism official, testified that the U.S. had no access to reliable law enforcement data from Syria since it has become a failed state.
Matthew Emrich, Associate Director of Fraud Detection at USCIS, said that the agency has enhanced screening processes and trained investigators that conduct interviews. Yet, he admitted that Syria does not have any records that the U.S. can access.
Sessions continued, “Do you have the ability for the majority of people you interview, to have independent data of value to help identify them?” Emrich responded that they did find valuable information occasionally, but could not speak to whether it applied to the majority or even 20% of the people interviewed.
"I don't believe you can tell us with any certainty that you have the ability to conduct an efficient background check,” Sen. Sessions concluded.
The hearing also talked about the economic impact that an increase of refugees would have on the U.S. Sessions noted that when a refugee arrived in the U.S. they can immediately “claim any job and collect any federal welfare benefit”. The Obama officials said that 80% of the refugees became “self-sufficient” within 18 months. When asked if those declared as “self-sufficient” included those on welfare programs the officials could not say.
Sessions commented that the U.S. has already provided $4 billion to aid in the Syrian refugee crisis, more than any other country. "Europe should be taking up the larger part of the problem," he said. "I don't accept the idea that we're not doing our fair share."
You can watch the full hearing on C-SPAN.
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled its own hearing on the Syrian refugees next week.
Read More at USA Today.
Updated: Mon, Oct 19th 2015 @ 4:25pm EDT