Homeland chair: 'Serious mistake' to resettle Syrian refugees in US

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The head of the House Homeland Security Committee says an Obama administration plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S. is a “serious mistake” and should be stopped until safeguards are in place.

“We have no way... to know who these people are and so I think bringing them in is a serious mistake,” Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday.

McCaul said the U.S. has “no intelligence footprint or capability” inside Syria to ensure refugees mean no harm.

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“We don’t have databases on these individuals so we can’t properly vet them," he added, "to know where they came from, to know what threat they pose, because we don’t have the data to cross-reference them with.”

McCaul, who has visited Syrian refugee camps overseas, said that while there are “a lot of mothers and kids, there are [also] a lot of males of the age that could conduct terrorist operations."

"That concerns me,” he added. 

The U.S. could resettle around 2,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year and potentially thousands more in fiscal 2016 under the State Department-led effort. The Department of Homeland Security has authority to approve the admissions.

McCaul first raised concerns about the effort in January during a panel hearing, saying the administration is creating a “federally funded jihadi pipeline” into the U.S.

U.S. intelligence officials have expressed reservations about the program and lawmakers, including Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), whose district could absorb some of the refugees, are pressing to have the effort halted.

McCaul said the program has created a “split” in the administration between the State Department and others agencies like the FBI, which is “saying this is a really bad idea from a security standpoint.”

Around 700 refugees have already been resettled in the country, with another 1,000 slated to arrive before the end of the year, according to McCaul, who predicted that figure would “tick up over the next two years.”

“I’m not aware of many communities in the United States who would want to welcome this,” he told reporters. “Until we have biometrics and databases to assure us we can safely bring them in, I don’t think that’s what the American people want.”

McCaul said that European countries, some of which take in thousands of Syrian refugees each month, have a “real problem on their hands right now” because their Muslim communities are often isolated, leading to the danger of radicalism.

“It’s a threat to Europe and they know that,” he said.