DHS Secretary: 'Refugees Are Subject to the Highest Level of Security Checks'

By Susan Jones | October 8, 2015 | 11:16 AM EDT

Migrants arrive at the Macedonian-Greek border town Gevgelija in Macedonia, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP)

(CNSNews.com) - "The U.S. is committed to providing refuge to some of the world's most vulnerable people, while carefully screening refugees for security concerns before admitting them to the United States," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress on Thursday.

Johnson said the screening process has improved over time, and "refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks."

"DHS works in concert with the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center for the screening and vetting of refugees," Johnson told the Senate Homeland Security Committee in his opening statement.

"All refugees admitted to the United States, including those from Syria, will be subject to this stringent security screening."

Also testifying at the hearing on threats to the homeland, FBI Director James Comey said the federal government has learned how to do a better job of screening refugees:

"We didn't do it as well as we should have in the mid-2000s, the first decade, with Iraqi refugees, so we had to go back and redo it. We've learned a lot from that. So I think we are more effective as a law enforcement/intelligence/national security community at screening folks.

"That said, there is no such thing as a no-risk enterprise, and there are things -- there are deficits that we face." Comey refused to discuss those deficits at the public hearing.

Johnson, agreeing with Comey's remarks, told the committee the U.S. "should do the right thing by accepting more" refugees. "But we've got to be careful in doing it," he said.

"We have improved the process for vetting, from a security standpoint, the refugees who are admitted into this country. And I am committed to making sure that we maintain that process."

Around 1,800 Syrian refugees were admitted to the United States in fiscal 2015, which ended on Sept. 30. President Obama has directed his administration to admit 10,000 Syrians in the current fiscal year. Millions, meanwhile, are flooding into Europe.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the committee chair, suggested that the U.S. set family relationships as the "number one criteria" for admitting refugees. "We can do DNA testing," he said, adding that Syrian families in the U.S. can also be financially responsible for the relatives seeking refuge here.