Haley Concerned about Refugees, but Lacks Information on Vetting

Governor Nikki Haley, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, expressed concern for refugees during her Senate confirmation hearing this Wednesday, noting the dangers facing Afghans who worked as translators with her husband and other U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. However, Haley clearly lacked full information on the rigorous U.S. process for vetting refugees for resettlement.

Haley indicated that she supports refugees entering the United States through the refugee resettlement program, but expressed concern over admitting refugees from “any areas of threat.” Her concerns, she said, were prompted by a conversation with FBI Director James Comey, who told her that “we don’t have the information” to screen Syrian refugees.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security collects lots of information and documentation from Syrian refugees during its assessment process, and the security vetting—which includes multiple U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies—goes well beyond the FBI. FBI Director Comey has himself also said, “We can vet them, we’ve gotten better at vetting and learned lessons from the vetting of Iraqi refugees.”

The FBI is just one part of the vetting process. Many national security, intelligence, and military agencies are involved, utilizing techniques beyond just database checks. As one official pointed out, while the FBI’s files might not have information on a family of farmers from Syria who have fled to Jordan, U.S. officials use other techniques to confirm that refugees are who they say they are, and rely on national security and intelligence agencies to provide that information.

As we detailed last year, refugees are screened through multiple national databases, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the State Department. Syrian refugees must clear an additional, “enhanced” layer of screening by DHS, which makes them “more carefully [screened] than any other type of traveler to the U.S.”

DHS also conducts an interview with the applicant overseas. Biometric data is collected, such as fingerprints, which are screened against additional security databases, including the Interpol database and fingerprints collected around the world. Even after these screenings, refugees are subject to supplement security checks prior to arrival. By the time the process is completed, refugees have been thoroughly screened by a long list of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as Interpol and foreign intelligence agencies.

The United States’ refugee vetting procedures are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world by former U.S. military leaders and former U.S. national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, along with former ambassadors and other officials from the Defense Department, State Department, and White House confirm that “refugees are vetted more thoroughly than any other category of traveler seeking to arrive in the United States.” Former DHS Secretaries Janet Napolitano and Michael Chertoff, who served under Obama and Bush respectively, state: “The process for any refugee seeking entry to the United States requires the highest level of scrutiny from a law enforcement and national security perspective.”

The strength of the U.S. vetting process is also recognized by former CIA Directors David Petraeus, Leon Panetta, and Michael Hayden, as well as other high-level national security officials who stress, “The process that refugees undergo in order to be deemed eligible for resettlement in the United States is robust and thorough… Those seeking resettlement are screened by national and international intelligence agencies; their fingerprints and other biometric data are checked against terrorist and criminal databases; and they are interviewed several times over the course of the vetting process.

Haley will soon have the chance to engage with national security experts to better understand the refugee vetting process, its strong safeguards and proven effectiveness. If confirmed, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Haley has the opportunity to ensure that the United States maintains its role as a global leader in the humanitarian system and continues to provide refugees the opportunity to live in dignity and safety.


Published on January 20, 2017


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