Rep. Michael McCaul on Wednesday questioned an Obama administration effort to admit Syrian refugees into the country, warning it could become a “jihadi pipeline” for Islamic militants.
“I am worried that [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] could exploit this effort in order to deploy operatives to America via a federally funded jihadi pipeline,” said McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Members of the Homeland Security panel sent a letter to the Obama administration last month warning that the resettlement plan, which is intended to help refugees of Syria’s civil war, “raises serious national security concerns.”
McCaul said he had visited refugee camps overseas and that, while “most” of the people there were women and children, “there are male actors that concern me.”
“I think this would be a huge mistake if we bring in these into the United States that could potentially be radicalized,” he said.
The U.S. is likely to resettle up to 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 (DHS) has the authority to approve the admissions.
A pair of U.S. intelligence officials testified that they also have reservations about the plan, but vowed to do everything in the power to vet refugees who are admitted into the country.
“We are concerned about any group of people coming to the United States who may be coming to the United States for nefarious purposes,” said Francis Taylor, Homeland Security Department undersecretary for intelligence and analysis.
Taylor said that under the agency’s citizenship and immigration services, officials “want to make sure that if we are asked to vet individuals from any part of the world to come to the United States, that we have applied the most rigorous screening that's available within the U.S. government.”
“It's clearly a population of concern … what we want to be able to do is apply the full weight of U.S. intelligence community holdings to the vetting and screening process so that we can unearth any information that we may have in our holdings that gives us concern about particular individuals,” added Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Syria has become a breeding ground for ISIS and other extremist groups amid the war between insurgent forces and President Bashar Assad. A military coalition led by the United States is waging airstrikes in the country in an attempt to weaken ISIS and target its leaders.