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COLUMN: Syrian Refugee Crisis Requires Cautious Compassion

October 19, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

Hardly a day goes by without Americans seeing horrific news stories on the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. The unstable security situation due to terrorism and civil war has destabilized the region and created a tide of refugees sweeping from the Middle East and Africa into Europe. The U.S. should respond to the refugee crisis deliberately and with great caution, taking every safeguard measure and keeping the security of our homeland as our foremost priority.

Migrants and refugees have overwhelmed the capacity of many European nations to screen applicants for asylum. More than 4 million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict. According to one estimate, this year almost 700,000 migrants have crossed borders into the European Union. And those are only the numbers for known crossings. The largest numbers are asylum claimants from Syria, but many thousands are also from Pakistan, Eritrea, and Afghanistan.

Concerns that terror groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) plan to take advantage of asylum policies to infiltrate the West are well-founded. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress in September that, “We don’t obviously put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees…That is a huge concern of ours.” Every American—especially we in Congress—should take those concerns very seriously.

The Obama Administration recently increased the number of refugees the U.S. will take in worldwide from 70,000 in 2015, to 85,000 in 2016 to 100,000 in 2017. The Administration’s plan includes allowing 10,000 Syrians refugees next year and perhaps even more in 2017. Under current law, the Administration sets the overall number of refugees to be taken in from around the world with little input from Congress. But such a vital domestic national security issue should require greater oversight from the American people’s representatives in Congress. I cosponsored the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act to require the Administration to receive affirmative approval from Congress through the enactment of a joint resolution before any additional refugees may be admitted into the U.S.

The bill will provide proper Congressional oversight, allowing Congress to ensure that any refugee resettlement plan put forward by the Administration adequately addresses these security concerns. The legislation would also require the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence and Federal Bureau of Investigation, to provide new security assurances before admitting refugees into the country, and for the Government Accountability Office to conduct an extensive review of security gaps in the current refugee screening process.

I share the concerns I have heard from many constituents expressing unease over the security screening procedures for refugees seeking entry into the U.S. The American people are already responding with compassion to assist refugees through billions of dollars in aid. It is imperative that Congress keep the Obama Administration accountable for providing a concrete homeland security strategy to ensure anyone seeking asylum in our country is who they say they are and do not have an affiliation to any foreign terror groups.