Congress Considers Cutting State Department Funding for Refugee Resettlement

Duncan: ‘We have no idea who is in our country’

Syria refugee
Migrants and refugees walk towards the border with Serbia / AP

Congress is considering proposals to cut federal funding to the State Department that enable it to admit refugees into the United States, according Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.), who warned in an interview Thursday with the Washington Free Beacon that the country’s southern border is providing a pathway for potential terrorists to enter the United States undetected.

Duncan, chair of the House subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and a member of its Homeland Security Committee, said that after Congress votes on a measure that would pause the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States, it could move forward on a proposal to freeze funding that enables the State Department to resettle these individuals.

The next step is "to push to deny funding to the State Department for processing these Syrian refugees until we can get some assurances vetting can happen," Duncan said, adding that Obama administration officials have admitted that it has little ability to vet Syrian refugees applying for asylum in the U.S.

Administration officials have "told us on record that we can’t vet the Syrians, that the records don’t exist," Duncan said, noting that many in Congress are concerned that the United States lacks the ability to assess whether an individual is tied to terrorists.

Congress is scheduled to first vote on legislation that would pause the entry of Syrian refugees into America until agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and FBI establish mechanisms to vet these individuals.

The bill would force relevant U.S. agencies to "actually sign off on each refugee," Duncan said. Currently, DHS and the FBI do not have a role in vetting refugees, a process that is left solely up to the State Department.

Given the lack of information about most of the refugees trying to enter the United States, Duncan believes it would be difficult for DHS and the FBI "to put their names on the documents and say this person has been truly vetted."

"How do they reconcile these two things?" Duncan asked. "I don’t believe they’ll sign off on the refugees because they’ve told us that the records don’t exist."

Jeh Johnson, DHS secretary, admitted before Congress last month that the U.S. intelligence community does not "know a whole lot" about Syrians applying for refugee status.

"It is true that we are not going to know a whole lot about a lot of the Syrians that come forth in this process, just given the nature of the situation," Johnson said at the time. "So we are doing better at checking all the right databases in the law enforcement and intelligence communities than we used to, and so it's a good process, and it's a thorough process. But that definitely is a challenge."

Reports from earlier this year said that some migrants, including Iranians, have been disguising themselves as Syrian refugees.

Illegal immigration remains a top concern among Republicans in Congress.

Intelligence suggests that terrorists, including ones linked to Hezbollah, have migrated to Latin America where they could easily cross over America’s southern border.

The arrest in Honduras on Wednesday of five Syrian nationals seeking to enter the United States using fake passports speaks to a larger vulnerability, Duncan said.

"First and foremost, we have no idea who is in our country," Duncan said, referring to the capture of many non-Mexican illegal immigrants entering the country through the southern border.

"These are people apprehended inside the country that have crossed our border that are not of Mexican descent," he said. "We have absolutely no idea who is in our country because they’re not coming through the normal ports of entry where they have to present a visa to anyone."

Duncan said agencies such as DHS "have no idea" who exactly is entering the country illegally.

"If you really start thinking comprehensively about Latin America and the ability of folks from the Middle East to get to Latin America and understanding they’re trying to transit the continent … we ought to be alarmed," Duncan said.

The Obama administration has been apathetic about immigration over the southern border despite this threat.

"The president doesn’t think there’s a problem," Duncan said. "I don’t know what fantasy world he’s living in, but it’s definitely not the United States, and he’s definitely not listening to the folks in Texas and Arizona and New Mexico who see there’s a problem."