DHS Official Admits: ‘Many’ Refugees Have Been Convicted of Terrorist Offenses in U.S.

Melanie Arter | September 29, 2016 | 3:33pm EDT
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USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez (Screen Capture)

(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Leon Rodriguez told Congress Thursday that “not a single act of actual terrorist violence has been a committed by a refugee” who underwent USCIS screening procedures since 9/11. But when a senator asked him if it was "correct" that many people who came into the refugee program as adults had been "convicted of terrorist offenses," Rodriguez admitted that that was "correct."

Under further questioning by Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.), Rodriguez admitted that he did not know the actual number of refugees admitted to the U.S. who had later been convicted of terrorist offenses. Vitter said, in questioning Rodriguez, that Congress had asked the administration for this number and it had not been provided.

USCIS is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“The fact is that since Sept. 11, not a single act of actual terrorist violence has been committed by a refugee who has undergone our screening procedures. There have been individuals who came to the U.S. as children,” Rodriguez told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest during its hearing on the refugee resettlement program.

“There are individuals who came a long time ago before our modern procedures, but since Sept. 11, all we have had is conspiracies - not only by refugees, but in fact by U.S.-born persons, other kinds of immigrants. It’s really an equal opportunity world,” he added.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee, asked Rodriguez, “You don’t count conspiracies?”

“They’re not actual acts of violence. They were effectively disrupted by U.S. law enforcement, is my point, sir,” Rodriguez responded.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) told Rodriguez about a report done by Fordham University Law School’s Center on National Security on ISIS prosecutions in the U.S.

“They looked at all ISIS prosecutions in the United States and determined that of those involved in that, 18 percent were refugees or asylees. Shouldn’t that be of enormous concern to all of us?” Vitter asked Rodriguez.

“Without a doubt. Yes,” Rodriguez responded.

“My question is: Isn't that a very big percentage? 18 percent.” Vitter asked a moment later.

“One percent would be a big percentage. This is an area of significant concern,” Rodriguez said.

“Now a few minutes ago, you touted and made a big deal in your testimony, or perhaps in response to a question, that since 9/11 there has been no person who came in as an adult in the refugee program who was convicted of a violent terrorist offense. Now that’s great, but that was a very carefully crafted statement. There are many people who came in as adults in the refugee program who’ve been convicted of terrorist offenses, correct?” Vitter asked.

“That is correct,” Rodriguez replied.

“Now, we’re all happy that those plots were disrupted, but in terms of security threats possibly posed by the refugee program, those cases are darn relevant, aren’t they? Just as relevant as a successful violent attack?” Vitter asked.

“Oh, sure they are, and they inform a number of the improvements that we made over the years. Many of those cases involve admissions that took place a while ago, and even in the last four to five years, there have been significant changes in the way that we vet refugees that makes a difference,” Rodriguez said.

“So, just to clarify your earlier statement, again you touted nobody came in through the refugee program as an adult who committee a violent act, but there sure were those who came in, who were convicted of terrorist offenses,” Vitter said.

“I was transparent about that. That’s correct,” Rodriguez said.

“Well, you’re only transparent about it once that—” Vitter said.

“No, I said it in my opening remarks,” Rodriguez interjected. "I said it in my opening remarks."

Vitter asked if Rodriguez had “personally reviewed all of those cases,” adding that the panel had asked him for the total number of refugees convicted of terrorist offenses.

“Have you personally reviewed all of those cases, because again as the chair said, we’ve asked for the total number, and your department and other agencies have been unable to give us a number. Have you personally reviewed that universe of cases--both with regard to the total number and the specific circumstances, perhaps common threads of those cases?” Vitter asked.

“I can’t tell you that I have," Rodriguez said. "I can tell you two things – one, I’ve reviewed a lot of cases, and certainly, as new cases have arisen in recent years, I’ve become immediately familiar with the facts of those cases, and one of the things that we do collectively in our agency is look at anything--improvements that we, that may be indicated by the circumstances in those cases."

“Shouldn’t you know the total number of that universe?” Vitter asked.

“Perhaps we know it as an agency. I have some rough sense of the number. I don’t specifically know the number,” Rodriguez said.

Vitter said "we've asked that question for months, we've not gotten a straight response. Why is that?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’m prepared to work with you to make sure you get the answers you’re looking for,” Rodriguez said.

“You’re in charge of the program. It seems to me you should darn well know what the number is, and it seems to me you should review those cases--all of those cases--to look for common threads,” Vitter said.

During his opening statement, Rodriguez also said that since the U.S. has begun “admitting Syrian refugees under the current crisis, seven percent have been denied because of either credibility or security issues identified based on information from law enforcement intelligence databases. About twice as many have been place on hold because we had concerns.”

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