FLASHBACK -- Jeh Johnson: We Don’t Know ‘a Whole Lot’ About Syrian Refugees Coming to US Through UN Program

By Penny Starr | October 13, 2015 | 3:32 PM EDT

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke at the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Oct 13, 2015. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNeww.com) – Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday [Oct. 13] he is “committed” to making sure that any Syrian refugees resettling in the United States will get the proper vetting while acknowledging that the federal government won’t “know a whole lot” about the individuals who gain access to the country through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and Resettlement.

“We’ve gotten better at that over the last couple years, but it is a time-consuming process, and one of the challenges we will have is that we’re not going to know a whole lot about the individual refugees that come forward from the UN High Commission on Refugees for Resettlement and Vetting,” Johnson said.

On Sept. 10, Obama’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the U.S. would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

“The announcement brought a variety of reactions that underscored how the refugee crisis has become another polarized political question,” the New York Times reported on the announcement.


“Aid groups called the administration’s action a token one given the size of the American economy and population, while a number of Republicans warned that Mr. Obama was allowing in potential terrorists,” it added.

According to the Times, the U.S. will allow 30,000 more immigrants from around the world next year in addition to the 70,000 refugees it currently allows into the U.S. each fiscal year. Germany has made the largest commitment to refugees – 500,000 per year.

CNSNews.com asked Johnson at the 2015 Association of the United States Army annual convention in Washington, D.C., how allowing Syrian refugees into the United States affects homeland security.

“Yes,” Johnson said. “We have committed to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year ’16, and we’re looking at more for fiscal year ’17. By the end of ’15, we will have resettled approximately 2,000. So, we’ve got to do more. We believe we need to do more. I’m committed to doing that and ensuring that those who are resettled are vetted properly and receive the appropriate security review.

“That means dedicating the resources to this increasing number, this increased number of refugees, and making sure that they are vetted against all the right databases that we have for that security review,” Johnson said.

“We’ve gotten better at that over the last couple years, but it is a time-consuming process, and one of the challenges we will have is that we’re not going to know a whole lot about the individual refugees that come forward from the UN High Commission on Refugees for Resettlement and Vetting,” he added.

“So it will be a challenge, but we are committed to doing it,” Johnson said. “It is meeting our international commitment, but also for the sake of our homeland security, ensuring that they get the right security review, and I’m committed to both.”

The Times article noted that refugees seeking to resettle in the United States must apply through the United Nations. According to the U.N., the U.S. is one of only a few countries around the world that use its refugee program.

“Only a small number of States take part in UNHCR's resettlement programme. The United States is the world's top resettlement country, while Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries also provide a sizeable number of places annually,” the U.N. Refugee Agency web site stated.

At the White House press conference, Earnest spoke about vetting Syrian refugees.

“Refugees go through the most robust security process of anybody who’s contemplating travel to the United States,” Earnest said. “Refugees have to be screened by the National Counter Terrorism Center, by the F.B.I. Terrorist Screening Center. They go through databases that are maintained by D.H.S., the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. There is biographical and biometric information that is collected about these individuals.”