Congress should cancel President Obama’s “blank check” for resettling Syrian refugees here in the wake of the bloody Islamic State attacks in Paris that left hundreds dead or wounded, a prominent senator on immigration issues urged today.
“Our track record on screening is very poor.”—@SenatorSessions
Obama’s plan to include at least 1,000 Syrian refugees among a total of 85,000 over the next year doesn’t include proper scrutiny of who the refugees are and which ones are likely ISIS recruits, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., wrote in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In addition, the plan would cost far more than the $1.2 billion price tag floated by the administration in a government funding bill, wrote Sessions, chairman of Judiciary’s subcommittee on immigration and the national interest. He said:
Our track record on screening is very poor. My subcommittee has identified at least 26 foreign-born individuals inside the United States charged with or convicted of terrorism over approximately the last year alone. The barbaric attacks in Paris—an assault on civilization itself—add immense new urgency.
Authorities have said that at least one terrorist involved in the Paris attacks carried a fake Syrian passport and landed in Greece as part of the wave of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the ongoing civil war in Syria and the brutal terrorist group Islamic State, or ISIS, that has claimed territory in much of Syria and Iraq.
In light of these events, Sessions outlined a plan that would require:
- Congress hold a separate vote on Obama’s refugee resettlement plan to make funding available.
- The Congressional Budget Office account for the entire cost of long-term federal spending on refugee resettlement, including all welfare and entitlement spending.
- The Obama administration propose budget offsets to fully pay for refugee resettlement.
- The administration identify aliens admitted to the U.S. as refugees since 2001 who later engaged in criminal or terrorist conduct.
Sessions said administration officials testified to his subcommittee that the government has no access to Syrian government data that would help “properly vet refugees” and “has no capacity to predict whether Syrian refugees are likely to join ISIS, as have many, for example, in Minnesota’s Somali refugee community.”
Sessions’ remarks reflect renewed unease in Congress about the nation’s vulnerability.
In Oct. 22 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, FBI Director James Comey said the government doesn’t have the resources and information to vet Syrian refugees adequately. Comey acknowledged “certain gaps” in screening procedures for refugees from failed states. Sessions and other immigration authorities pointed to this testimony.
“ISIS terrorists and sympathizers have made clear that they plan to infiltrate Western countries through the refugee system,” Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in prepared remarks Monday on the Paris attacks. “When will President Obama take ISIS threats seriously, as well as the warnings of national security officials within his own administration, and cease his plan to bring thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States?”
The Judiciary Committee will return to such issues Tuesday during a Justice Department oversight hearing. Its subcommittee on immigration and border security will hold a hearing Thursday on the Syrian refugee crisis.
Leaders of several groups that advocate what they consider more reasonable immigration policies also heard alarm bells in the Paris attacks, believed to have been carried out by at least eight ISIS-affiliated terrorists at six different public places.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, said in an email to The Daily Signal:
Of course, most refugees and their descendants will never engage in a terrorist act. But some of our nation’s top security officials have said they cannot guarantee they have screening abilities to prevent potential terrorists from entering with refugee flows. Our government should not subject its citizens to the increasingly clear potential dangers of large-scale resettlement programs. Fortunately, the security of our nation is better served and our humanitarian impulse and responsibility are better fulfilled by providing safe shelter for as many refugees as possible with adequate food and health care in internationally run refugee camps in people’s home regions.
Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, told The Daily Signal in an email:
The attacks in Paris on Friday must lead the Obama administration to reconsider its pledge to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians—possibly many more—over the next year. The revelation that a Syrian passport found on one of the terrorists indicates that he had been admitted to Europe last month as part of the mass wave of migrants confirms the warnings of both U.S. and European intelligence services that ISIS and other terrorist groups are using the crisis to infiltrate the West. …
We have no way of accurately identifying people who are pouring out of these failed states, much less the ability to carry out any meaningful background checks. The United States can play a role in protecting people who are fleeing the breakdown of all social and civil order. But the first obligation of any nation is to protect the security of its people. And, as the massacre in Paris demonstrates, the threats to our security are real and significant.
Others warned against a backlash against Syrians and other refugees from Muslim countries. Think Progress, the blog of the Center for American Progress, reported on the fears of some who fled to Europe. The account quoted a 22-year-old dentistry student from Syria who paid his respects at the French embassy in Berlin and said: “What’s happening to them [in Paris] is happening every day in Syria, 100 times per day for five years, so we know what that means.”
The National Immigration Forum, which advocates what it sees as more inclusive immigration policies, published Monday a statement by John Sandweg, former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arguing that—unlike European nations—America has a “robust and layered approach to screening of refugees.” Sandweg said:
Prior to setting foot on U.S. soil, refugees must first clear a comprehensive background investigation that includes multiple layers of in-person interviews, biographic and biometric background checks, and interviews of third-persons who may have information related to the individual. No refugee may be admitted into the U.S. unless and until this lengthy process is complete and reveals no information that would suggest the person poses a security risk. This system is very different from the current situation in Europe, where countries are forced to vet refugees after they arrive in their country.
David Inserra, a policy analyst for homeland security at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the case is more complicated for America.
“There are some people that the U.S. will simply know nothing about, and that poses a security risk,” Inserra said of the refugees. “Focusing on applicants where we have some intelligence … decreases the risk to the U.S. while still helping individuals in need.”
In a Heritage issue brief on the refugee crisis published Oct. 20, Inserra and Steven Bucci, director of Heritage’s Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, reviewed related issues.
“Security is a major concern,” Bucci and Inserra wrote. “Given a population of this size, from a war-torn area, the Islamic State (ISIS) or other Islamist terrorist groups will most certainly try to slip in some of their personnel with the refugees. Thus far, there have been few examples of this happening.”
There are ways to minimize the security risks. Specifically, the U.S. should accept refugees about which it has some information. Put simply, the U.S. will not be able to collect reliable information on many people applying for refuge or asylum. There are likely some groups or individuals about whom the U.S. does have more credible information or can more easily collect relevant information—these should be the focus of U.S. refugee efforts.
In his letter, Sessions also criticized the proposal for allowing the full cost of giving refugees food stamps, housing, and cash welfare to be borrowed and added to the national debt, and for covering the expense of providing refugees with Medicare and Social Security by raiding trust funds.
“The current proposal,” he said, “will amount to a blank check to President Obama to carry out his entire refugee resettlement plan.”
For the same cost of providing benefits to one refugee in America, vastly more refugees could be helped by establishing safe-zones in Syria or surrounding countries until displaced persons can be safely returned home. This is the strategy likeliest to produce long-term political reform in the Middle East. It is not sound policy to encourage millions to permanently abandon their homes.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, the Alabama Republican added, the nation has resettled 1.5 million migrants from Muslim countries, but that “clearly has not contributed to the stabilization of unstable regions.” He said current policy will result in resettlement of almost 700,000 more migrants from those countries in the next five years.
The administration’s estimate that the resettlement plan would cost $1.2 billion is misleading because it represents only “start-up costs,” Sessions said.
He noted that Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation who specializes in immigration and government welfare, estimated the net cost of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees averages out to $6.5 billion over their lifetimes.
“With such a forecast,” Sessions wrote, “the president’s proposal to resettle 85,000 refugees this fiscal year alone will result in a net cost of approximately $55.25 billion.”
Absent such basic requirements, the administration will dramatically increase the number of refugees admitted into the United States on top of our current historic immigration flow; the United States will begin resettling tens of thousands of poorly vetted Syrian refugees who will eventually be able to bring in their relatives; [and] all of the exorbitant long-term costs for this resettlement will be borrowed and added to our now $18.4 trillion debt.