WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is urging Senate Appropriations Committee members to place firm restrictions on the expenditure of any money to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States until intelligence officials have agreed with the vetting process for these refugees.
Grassley has been concerned that the Islamic State will seek to leverage the anonymity offered by blending in with the thousands of people fleeing from the violence of the Middle East. After meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry about the number of refugees the President plans to allow into the United States, Grassley emphasized that America’s security must remain a top priority when admitting refugees, especially when violent terrorist groups like ISIS are committed to finding ways to enter the United States and harm Americans.
In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman and Ranking Member, Grassley wrote, “I urge that you, as part of the appropriations legislation before the committee, require, as a condition for any funding for refugee resettlement for Syrian refugees, a comprehensive plan on how security will be achieved. Furthermore, not one dollar should be expended until stringent parameters for vetting these refugees are established. Therefore, I urge you to include language in the spending measure to require a certification by intelligence and counterterrorism officials, such as the FBI or the NCTC, before any refugees from Syria are admitted.”
Here is a copy of the text of the letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski. The letter can also be found here.
November 4, 2015
The Honorable Thad Cochran
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
113 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
503 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 205
I write to express concern about the state of security measures being taken to vet the tens of thousands Syrian refugees the Obama Administration plans on admitting to our country in fiscal year 2016, and respectfully request that any spending bill appropriating funds for refugee resettlement have firm limitations before the Administration is allowed to press forward with its plan.
On several occasions, senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have made statements regarding their concern about the Administration’s ability to adequately ascertain the criminal background of these individuals. One particularly alarming statement comes from Director of the FBI, James Comey. In a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on October 8, Director Comey stated, “My concern there is there are certain gaps...in the data available to us.” This data, which includes fingerprints, background, or biographic information, is crucial for an adequate screening of potential refugees entering the United States. Director Comey continued in that hearing saying, “There is risk associated with bringing anybody in from the outside, but especially from a conflict zone like that.”
In a hearing before the House Committee on the Judiciary in October, Director Comey acknowledged that despite a large pool of data on Iraqi refugees, our past program for admitting refugees from Iraq inadvertently allowed into our country “a number of people who were of serious concern, including two that were charged when we found their fingerprints on improvised explosive devices from Iraq.” Our ability to screen individuals from war-torn Syria is extremely limited by comparison. At that same hearing, Director Comey said, “The only thing we can query is information that we have. And so if we have no information on someone, they’ve never crossed our radar screen, never been a ripple in the pond, there will be no record of them there. And so it will be challenging.”
Director Comey is not the only senior national security official with these doubts. At the same Senate hearing on October 8, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Nicholas Rasmussen, said in specific reference to Syria: “The intelligence picture we have of this particular conflict zone is not as rich as we would like it to be…”
As the Islamic State continues their campaign of terror across the Middle East, they seek new avenues and opportunities to extend their hostile reach into the United States. It is no secret that they seek to do us harm by whatever means necessary. The Islamic State will undoubtedly seek to leverage the anonymity of blending in amongst the thousands of people fleeing from their violence. With such a determined enemy, it is imperative that the Executive Branch do everything reasonably within its power to mitigate the extraordinary risk posed by the President’s plan to admit tens of thousands of individuals from the heart of ISIL’s territory.
As the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, you have the opportunity to ensure that taxpayer funds are used effectively to properly and securely screen refugees entering the United States. I urge that you, as part of the appropriations legislation before the committee, require, as a condition for any funding for refugee resettlement for Syrian refugees, a comprehensive plan on how security will be achieved. Furthermore, not one dollar should be expended until stringent parameters for vetting these refugees are established. Therefore, I urge you to include language in the spending measure to require a certification by intelligence and counterterrorism officials, such as the FBI or the NCTC, before any refugees from Syria are admitted. This added layer of oversight ensures that all officials are properly consulted and their expertise is taken into utmost consideration before the homeland is susceptible to any risk.
I appreciate your attention to this matter as you work to finalize the fiscal year 2016 spending measures.
Charles E. Grassley
Committee on the Judiciary