ICYMI: Idaho lawmakers weigh in on passing refugee vetting law

Posted on 11/23/15 in Uncategorized, No Comments

Idaho State Journal

by Cydney McFarland

Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and Raúl Labrador voted in favor of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act — or the American SAFE Act — during a vote on Thursday. The bill requires refugees from Syria and Iraq to undergo extra certifications and background investigations before being admitted to the United States.

Only two Republican representatives — Walter Jones of North Carolina and Steve King of Iowa — opposed the bill while 47 Democrats voted in favor of the new requirements. The bill passed with a vote of 289 to 137.

Simpson and Labrador’s votes come as no surprise. Both representatives were quoted in a joint statement made by the Idaho delegation on Monday that they support Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s call to stop the resettlement of refugees in light of the attacks in Paris.

“Last month FBI Director James Comey admitted to me in a hearing that he couldn’t guarantee refugees coming to the United States would not include terrorist,” said Labrador in the delegation’s joint statement. “I have since received no assurance from the administration that the situation has improved.”

The bill requires that a refugee will only be admitted after the Director of the FBI has certified his or her background check through the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Homeland Security. If all three agencies agree, the refugee’s application will then be certified by six house committees and six senate committees.

Essentially, each department head will have to sign off on their agency’s investigation into each individual refugee, certifying that they aren’t a danger to national security.

About 2,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States this year. Idaho has resettled seven intact families making 35 refugees total, 20 of which where children, according to Jan Reeves, the Director of the Idaho Office of Refugees.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, people looking to apply for refugee status in the U.S. must have a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admission Program. Referrals usually come from U.N. High Commission for Refugees. Referrals are often given based on if that person already has family in the country they hope to resettle in.

Once referred to the U.S., they must apply for refugee status. According to U.S. law, a refugee must be someone who is currently located outside of the United States, is of special humanitarian concern and must demonstrate that have been or could be prosecuted because of their race, religion, nationality or political opinion.

Refugees are then vetted by the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Health and Human Services among others.

Refugees go through multiple rounds of interviews and have to submit everything from legal documents to proof of their day-to-day living conditions in order to build their case. The roughly 14-step process takes between 18 months to 2 years, according to Reeves.

“For refugees from Iraq and Syria, it is a particularly lengthy process,” said Reeves.

Administration officials have acknowledged that vetting refugees from countries such as Iraq and Syria pose a challenge because of the turmoil in the region and the fact that government, like Syria’s, do not cooperate with the U.S.

Since 9/11, more than 750,000 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. through a more secure system that involves several different national and international intelligence agencies. Annually, the U.S. accepts 70,000 refugees from around the world, according to PBS.

After a passport of a Syrian refugee was connected to the Paris attacks, lawmakers across the U.S. from state governors to presidential hopefuls spoke out about their concern over ISIS using refugees to attack the west.

“There are obviously serious concerns with the refugee screening process as it currently stands; and in the light of recent attacks in Paris, we cannot move forward with accepting Syrian refugees,” said Simpson in the delegation’s joint statement.

However, EU officials have now reported that none of the suspects in the Paris attacks were Syrian refugees. Out of the more than 750,000 refugees settled in the U.S. since 9/11 only three have been arrested charges of terrorism.

In 2011, two Iraqi refugees were arrested on terrorism charges after being connected terrorist organizations in Iraq. They did not carry out any attacks on targets within the U.S. A refugee from Uzbekistan was arrested in Boise and charged in 2014 after threatening an attack on the U.S.

Recent attacks on the U.S., such as the shooting in Garland, Texas, and the Boston bombing, were not carried out by refugees. The two men killed in Texas were both U.S. citizens, and the Tsarnaev brothers were granted asylum through their parents who arrived in the U.S. on tourist visas and then applied for asylum.

After the attacks in Paris, France is still planning to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees. Despite opposition from lawmakers, President Barack Obama has said that he will veto any bills looking to block the acceptance of Syrian refugees to the U.S. The U.S. is still on track to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees within the next year.

Read more at http://www.idahostatejournal.com/members/idaho-lawmakers-weigh-in-on-passing-refugee-vetting-law/article_15a0edc6-925d-5e06-9f46-6aebfa192660.html