Julian Hattem, The Hill, December 7, 2015
Intelligence officials have determined that Islamic extremists have explored using the refugee program to enter the United States, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee said on Monday.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) declined to go into detail about the determination, which the Obama administration has not announced publicly.
Yet the disclosure could add ammunition to critics of the White House’s refugee plans who have warned that the program is vulnerable to infiltration by adherents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“ISIS members in Syria have attempted to exploit it to get into the United States,” McCaul said during a speech at the National Defense University.
“The U.S. government has information to indicate that individuals tied to terrorist groups in Syria have already attempted to gain access to our country through the U.S. refugee program.”
Refugees undergo rigorous screenings that last for up to two years, the Obama administration has said, making them among the most thoroughly vetted people coming into the country.
Still, Republicans and some Democrats have been wary of the president’s plans to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country next year.
Last month, the House voted overwhelmingly to make it more difficult for refugees from Iraq and Syria to enter the United States.
McCaul’s dire outlook stood in contrast to the message from Obama, who less than 24 hours before attempted to reassure the nation about terrorism in his third-ever address from the Oval Office.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” Obama said.
“We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear,” he added, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”
This week, the House is expected to take up legislation tightening a program allowing travelers from 38 countries to enter the U.S. without a visa. The reform is the only White House recommendation that Congress is likely to act on in the wake of the recent killings.