Refugee stream a ‘potential opportunity’ for terrorists, DHS secretary says

Greg Nash

The head of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said that the United States’s acceptance of Syrian refugees could pose a national security threat.

Even as President Obama has called for the U.S. to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, Secretary Jeh Johnson maintained during a hearing on Capitol Hill that the initiative is not risk-free.

“In all candor, I do agree that the refugee flow coming out of Iraq and Syria represents a potential opportunity for terrorist organizations to move its members into other nations for potential attacks,” Johnson testified before the House Homeland Security Committee. “So I agree that there is that potential, which is why just within the last several months we have enhanced our vetting for refugees.”

The claim hints at the problems vexing the Obama administration as it seeks to ramp up the number of refugees brought into the country.

The administration is so far falling far behind Obama’s pledge to bring in 10,000 new Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Since October, the U.S. has brought in just 1,115 of the refugees. 

Republican lawmakers, especially in the House, have vocally protested the call for more Syrian refugees. Following last year’s terror attack in Paris, concerns have increased about the risk of extremists using the refugee process to enter the U.S. At least one of the shooters in that attack is believed to have traveled with Syrian refugees.

Comments from Johnson, FBI Director James Comey and others last year appeared to confirm fears about the government’s ability to adequately vet the migrants.

Last year, the National Counterterrorism Center said that it had identified “individuals with ties to terrorist groups in Syria attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through the U.S. refugee program."

Obama administration officials, however, have tried to stress the lengthy vetting process for refugees heading to the U.S., which relies on a series of background checks and oversight from intelligence agencies and can last up to two years.

“Just the week before last I was in Turkey,” Johnson testified on Wednesday. “One of the places I visited was a Syrian refugee camp. The overwhelming number of people in that camp are women and children who left Syria because their homes have been ravaged and destroyed and want to go back there,” he said.

“They’re the victims of terrorists and violence, so I think we share the effort to resettle this population someplace else. But we’re going to do it carefully.”