Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Senators Question Obama Administration About Planned Initiative to Expedite Interviews of Syrian Refugees

Feb 12, 2016

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee members are pressing for information about a possible interview surge of thousands of Syrian refugees in an attempt by the Obama administration to expedite their entry into the United States.

The letter was led by Chairman Chuck Grassley and signed by committee members Orrin Hatch, David Vitter, Thom Tillis, Jeff Sessions, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and David Perdue.  

“We continue to be troubled by the Administration’s plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, especially in light of the shortcomings in the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to adequately screen and vet such refugees, as has been discussed in hearing after hearing in both the House and the Senate over the past few months.  The Administration’s refusal to suspend or even slow the pace of such refugee processing is particularly disturbing when reports abound of ISIS terrorists intentionally inserting themselves into the Syrian refugee stream,” the senators wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to recent comments from the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as well as the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, terrorists continue to use refugee channels to enter the European Union and other nations.  

Legislation to increase background checks on certain refugees and require intelligence officials to concur with improved vetting was filibustered by Democrats.  
             
Here is the letter to Johnson and Kerry.  

                                 
                           February 11, 2016


VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary             
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC  20528

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretaries Johnson and Kerry:

Information has come to the Committee’s attention that the Administration is preparing an interview surge of prospective Syrian refugees that is scheduled to commence on or about February 14, 2016.  More specifically, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is preparing to send approximately 200-300 agency employees to a location in Amman, Jordan, to interview thousands of purportedly Syrian candidates for resettlement to the United States that have been gathered at the same location.  This plan, detailed in internal emails, is referred to within USCIS as the “MARKA” surge, and provides that deployed personnel will be at the location in Amman for at least 45 days.

We continue to be troubled by the Administration’s plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, especially in light of the shortcomings in the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to adequately screen and vet such refugees, as has been discussed in hearing after hearing in both the House and the Senate over the past few months.  The Administration’s refusal to suspend or even slow the pace of such refugee processing is particularly disturbing when reports abound of ISIS terrorists intentionally inserting themselves into the Syrian refugee stream.  

On February 9, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ISIS is "taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow."[1] On February 5, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency confirmed that Islamic State militants have slipped into Europe disguised as refugees.[2]

We strongly support efforts aimed to improve vetting and background investigations, however, it appears that the purpose of the MARKA” surge is aimed at little more than expediting the resettlement timeframe.  To learn more about the Administration’s plans to process Syrian refugees, including how vetting will be improved by the MARKA initiative, we ask you to respond to the following questions:

1.    Exactly how many USCIS employees will be sent to Jordan to process Syrian refugee cases?
2.    When will these USCIS employees be sent to Jordan and how long will they stay?
3.    From which USCIS offices will these employees be taken?  Please provide an office-by-office breakdown.
4.    What sort of training will these employees be given prior to departing for Jordan?
5.    Will USCIS be sending staff from its Fraud Detection and National Security directorate to Jordan as part of the MARKA surge?  If so, how many?
6.    Will the FBI, other members of the intelligence community, or any other law enforcement agency personnel be deployed with USCIS staff as part of the MARKA surge?  
7.    How much will the MARKA surge cost USCIS and from which accounts will the necessary funds be taken?
8.    How much will it cost to post a single USCIS employee in Jordan for a 45-day period?
9.    How many Syrian refugees will be processed during the MARKA surge?
10.    What is the role of the Department of State in the MARKA surge?

We request that the Departments respond to this letter no later than February 22, 2016. Should you have any questions, please contact Kathy Nuebel Kovarik of the Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.‎

Sincerely,
                                                

 

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