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Governors question refugee security checks

Kimberly Adams Nov 18, 2015
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More than half of America’s governors have said they don’t want Syrian refugees in their states. They say it’s just too risky, given what happened in Paris and allegations one of the attackers posed as a refugee.

European countries, overwhelmed with migrants and refugees, have not been able to conduct thorough security screenings for the thousands of migrants entering their countries. In the U.S., refugees are put through background checks and interviews before they get here.

American University’s Sarah Deardorff Miller, who has worked with refugee agencies in the U.S. and abroad, said the process takes from a year and a half to two years. Only 1 percent of refugees get formally settled in a host country, and of those, only a tiny fraction make it to the U.S. And before they do, Deardorff Miller said refugees run through several types of background checks and interviews by the UN, the State Department, the FBI and others.

“Logically, if you think about it,” she said, “it would be among the worst ways to try to come if you were wanting to commit an act of terror. If not just because it’s such a lengthy process, but it’s also among the most stringent of security processes.

There are much easier ways to enter, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell University.

“Refugees are screened much more thoroughly than many, in fact most people who come to the United States as tourists or as students,” he said.

Yale-Loehr said people still go through background checks for these types of visas, but it’s a much less thorough investigation.

“They fill out an application online and do an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas,” he said.

But he acknowledges no system is risk-free. And America’s governors want more assurances that what happened in France won’t happen here.

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