Obama Admin Keeping Syrian Refugee Vetting Details Classified, Hiding Potential Flaws

Admin hiding details of vetting from American public while moving in refugees

Syria refugees
Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during the ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria / AP
December 21, 2016

The Obama administration is keeping details about how it is vetting Syrian refugees for terrorism ties classified, drawing concerns from Congress that the administration is using a flawed screening process that expedites the timeframe needed to fully vet foreign individuals, according to new congressional communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.) is petitioning the Obama administration to publicly disclose the vetting process and explain how officials can ensure in an expedited timeframe that Syrians admitted into the United States do not have ties to terrorism, according to a letter sent by Duffy to the White House.

The Obama administration has repeatedly shortened the timeframe allocated to vet these refugees for terrorism, with checks now taking less than three months despite warnings from security officials who have asked for up to two years to perform the necessary background checks.

Duffy is additionally petitioning President-elect Donald Trump to pause the refugee resettlement program until U.S. security officials across the government can guarantee that all Syrians relocated to the United States do not have ties to terrorism.

Duffy disclosed in his correspondence to Obama and the organization responsible for relocating refugees into his Wisconsin district that the vetting procedures remain flawed, raising concerns among local constituents still reeling from an uptick in terror acts across the United States in the last year.

The letters highlight ongoing challenges the Obama administration faces as it seeks to bring thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States on an expedited timeline. While top U.S. security officials have warned about the difficulties they face in vetting these refugees, the Obama administration has accelerated the vetting process.

In some cases, such as the upcoming resettlement in Wisconsin, it appears that screening procedures meant to ensure the safety of refugees was separately accelerated from several weeks to just two days.

"I am concerned that your organization has not done a thorough and complete assessment about the viability of resettling Syrian refugees in Hudson," Duffy wrote on Wednesday to the Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS), which is working with the government to relocate Syrian refugees.

"My office has been informed that these assessments typically take two to three weeks but in this particular case the LSS staff conducted its assessment in just two days and could make a decision as early as today," Duffy wrote.

"Our community and the refugees deserve a thorough review of the greater Hudson area, instead of one that is rushed to meet a political timeline," Duffy wrote, asking the organization to provide evidence that refugees have been properly screened.

In a separate letter to President Obama, Duffy explained that Syria is "home to the largest breeding ground of terrorists in history and even your own administration officials have highlighted the threat that accepting refugees from the country might have on our national security."

Department of Homeland Security head Jeh Johnson, as well as other intelligence officials, have warned that Islamic State terrorists are seeking to exploit the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

"It is true that we are not going to know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth in this process," Johnson said in recent remarks.

Duffy went on to express concern about the administration's efforts to classify the vetting process and keep details hidden from the American public.

"While I appreciate the fact that the administration has offered classified briefings to Members of Congress regarding the vetting procedures used to assess the risks posed by Syrian refugees, this information is not made available to the public who have little confidence that the current screening standards are sufficient," Duffy wrote.

Lawmakers have also become concerned about the vetting process due to the Obama administration's promise to veto legislation that would strengthen security screenings and require sign off from each U.S. law enforcement agency.

"Before admitting any refugees in the U.S., I ask that you to immediately declassify the vetting procedures used to screen potential refugees and provide assurances that new admissions pose no threat to the U.S.," Duffy wrote. "As this is a matter of immediate concern, I request that you respond prior to the resettlement of any additional refugees."

Duffy in his letter to President-elect Trump implored him to place the refugee issue at the top of his priorities.

"Many of my constituents supported your candidacy in part because of your pledge to put a pause on the refugee resettlement program from places with high risks of terrorism until we have the confidence that we can properly screen refugees to determine whether they pose a threat to the United States," Duffy wrote to Trump.

"Accordingly, I ask that you uphold this campaign promise after you are sworn in as the 45th president on January 20, 2017," the letter stated. "I look forward to working with you and your new administration to prevent the admission of non-U.S. citizens who have not been thoroughly vetted by the appropriate national security agencies."