The Obama administration has pledged to take in 85,000 refugees in the next fiscal year, with the number increasing to 100,000 the year after that. While not all of these refugees will be coming from war-torn countries like Syria, many will, and it has Republicans up in arms over the strain on American resources and the security risks it poses.
Speaking on Capitol Hill Thursday, FBI Director James Comey weighed in from a security perspective, lending credence to Republican concerns over proper vetting of refugees.
“My concern there is there are certain gaps ... in the data available to us,” Comey said.
“There is risk associated of bringing anybody in from the outside, but specifically from a conflict zone like that,” he added.
“There is no such thing as a no-risk enterprise and there are deficits that we face.”
In particular, the lack of solid on-the-ground intelligence assets in Syria has clouded the U.S.’s ability to crosscheck the backgrounds of every refugee hoping to come to the U.S., Comey and other national security officials told the Senate panel.
“The intelligence that we have of this particular conflict zone is not as rich as we would like it to be,” said Nicholas Rasmussen, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center. “We’ve got a much more streamlined and effective system to make sure that all of our intelligence holdings are brought to bear as these decisions are made, but you can only review against what you have.”
“We are building that fact into our analysis as well,” he added, “so that we can at least identify what more questions we need to ask.”
Refugees are first recommended by the United Nations, according to the administration, and then screened by multiple U.S. agencies. The White House insists that the vetting process will be thorough.
“We should do the right thing by accepting more, but we should be careful in doing it,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.
Republicans didn’t seem any more comforted by the administration’s assurances, however.
“I’m very skeptical about what I hear,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during the hearing.
Thus far, roughly 2,000 Syrian refugees have come to the U.S.