The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is defending its ability to screen refugee applicants following the deadly attacks in Paris, and officials there say that state governors who want to refuse Syrian refugees on security grounds have unfounded fears.
The department's Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on a conference call Monday that he is confident the governors' concerns will be adequately addressed. He said they will "be able to stand tall and accept refugees across the country." Mayorkas said the administration "strongly believes that the governors' fears are not well founded."
More than two dozen U.S. governors are balking at letting Syrian refugees settle in their states, after the discovery that one of the Paris attackers slipped into Europe in the wave of Syrian migrants escaping that country's war.
The governors called for an end to plans to resettle as many as 10,000 Syrians in the United States over the next year, in a debate that has mirrored discussions in European countries over whether resettlements endanger security.
Last week, the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would require top U.S. national security officials to certify that each individual migrant from Iraq and Syria is not a national security threat to the United States before being granted asylum. President Barack Obama is promising to veto the measure if it passes the Senate.
Mayorkas said Monday the bill is impractical and would mean that the top U.S. national security officials would need to spend most of their working hours reviewing refugee applications.
Mayorkas also said that the case of the Paris attacker who entered France as a refugee is very different from the U.S. refuge application process that takes 18-24 months. He said the U.S. vetting process includes an initial screening by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, security checks by the both the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a medical screening, an in-person interview, and additional security vetting for young Syrian and Iraqi males.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson emphasized in a statement Monday that it is the burden of the individual to prove they qualify for refugee status in the U.S. He also called on Congress to help efforts to expand customs pre-screening at foreign airports and fully fund the aviation security budget President Barack Obama's has requested.
Also speaking to reporters on Monday's conference call, which was organized by the White House, were the mayors of Detroit and Austin, who said they welcome Syrian refugees despite the pushback by their states' Republican governors.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says his city can support 50 Syrian families annually for the next three years. Austin Mayor Steve Adler says Americans need to defend the country's values when it's hard, not just when it's easy.
A new poll from The Washington Post and ABC News shows that a majority of Americans oppose resettling Syrian refugees in the United States. It also shows that 28 percent of Americans list terrorism as their top issue in next year's presidential contest, topped only by the economy at 33 percent.