CAPITOL HILL - A senior Obama administration official told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday that accepting Syrian refugees into the United States actually increases U.S. security.
In a clash with House Republicans at a Wednesday hearing over accepting Iraqi and Syrian refugees, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services Director Leon Rodriguez delivered a strong defense of the Syrian Resettlement program.
Rodriguez said he believes it boosts U.S national security to offer shelter to victims of Islamic State terror because it destroys the group’s narrative that the West is against Islam.
Several Republican members of the House Homeland Security Committee had expressed security concerns, saying their states do not want to admit refugees from war zones in the Middle East who have not been vetted.
Republican Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul cited recent arrests and the mass shooting in San Bernardino in December: “Just last month, the FBI arrested two Iraqis in the United States on terror-related charges. Both were inspired by ISIS, one had traveled to Syria, and both had entered our country as refugees. In December, two ISIS fanatics in San Bernardino launched a heinous attack that left 14 dead and 22 wounded. One of these terrorists came into the United States already radicalized on a fiancé visa.”
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security explained that refugees admitted into the U.S. from Iraq and Syria face a thorough screening process that takes an average of 18-24 months.
The officials said about 2,000 Syrians have been admitted to the U.S. since the brutal conflict in Syria began. Thirty Syrians were denied acceptance outright and several hundred are on hold pending further investigation.
Several Republican lawmakers at the hearing asked if, in the aftermath of the recent San Bernardino, California attacks, the Department of Homeland Security is now monitoring the social media accounts of those applying for refugee status.
Rodriguez explained: “At this point, with respect to the Syrian refugee stream, we are reviewing social media in those cases where there are existing flags of concern. We are building as quickly as we can to build to a point where we would in fact be screening the entire body of Syrian refugee applicants.”
Several Democratic committee members asked if the Department of Homeland Security had the resources it needs to conduct comprehensive screenings. The DHS officials at the hearing said the department has the funding to hire more linguists and other staff members if needed.
McCaul led a push late last year to pass the SAFE Act in the House of Representatives. The act virtually halts the resettlement of Iraqi and Syrian refugees by adding additional layers of security to the process.
Senate Democrats were able to block a similar bill in the Senate last month, threatening to force Republicans to vote on an amendment containing the proposal by Republican candidate Donald Trump to bar all Muslims from entering the United States.
President Barack Obama has said he would veto any attempt to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees.