(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s fast-tracking of Syrian refugee applications is “a threat to our national security,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said on Tuesday.
Collins was responding to reports that processing time for Syrian refugee applications has been cut to three months – down from the standard 18-24 months – as part of a “surge” aimed at reaching President Obama’s target of admitting 10,000 in fiscal year 2016.
“Accelerating the timeline to admit and resettle refugees from countries that are hotbeds of terrorism is a threat to our national security,” he said in a statement. “Despite serious risks, the Obama administration decided being politically correct is more important than the safety of the American people.”
“Abruptly dropping the amount of time it will take to vet people raises serious concerns that there will be a less comprehensive process that will not screen out those seeking to take advantage of our system.”
Collins said in the light of recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and elsewhere, the U.S. needs to be more cautious than ever.
“Now is not the time to make our vetting process less secure by rushing decisions.”
With less than six months of FY 2016 to go, fewer than 14 percent of the 10,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted. Against that background, the State Department launched a three-month “surge” operation in Amman, Jordan on February 1, according to U.S. Ambassador Alice Wells.
Running through April 28, the program aims to achieve “President Obama’s directive to send 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States by September 30, 2016, while also ensuring that every refugee accepted by the United States has been thoroughly screened and vetted through our rigorous security process,” Wells told journalists last week.
Regional refugee coordinator Gina Kassem said officials in Amman were interviewing 600 applicants a day, and that the resettlement process has been reduced from the standard 18-24 months, to three months.
In response to queries about the significant time reduction, a State Department official rejected the notion that security screening would be compromised.
“All applicants will still be subject to the same stringent security and medical requirements that apply to all applicants for U.S. refugee resettlement,” the official told CNSNews.com. “All other necessary procedures will remain unchanged.”
“While this surge and other efforts will decrease the overall processing time for individual families, the average processing time worldwide remains 18-24 months,” the official said. “As we said, neither this surge nor any of our efforts to expand processing capacity curtail any aspects of the security, medical, or other screening.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) terrorist attacks in Paris last November stoked fresh fears that terrorist groups would use refugee admissions programs to infiltrate members into Western countries.
Prosecutors said two of the Paris attackers had evidently entered Europe through Greece, posing as refugees fleeing from the Syrian conflict. The French government warned European partners that “some terrorists are trying to get into our countries and commit criminal acts by mixing in with the flow of migrants and refugees.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would later tell a Senate committee that ISIS is indeed “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants [entering Europe] to insert operatives into that flow.”
In a letter to Obama shortly after the Paris attack, Collins urged a suspension of all Syrian and Iraqi refugee admissions “until your Administration creates both a truly thorough vetting process to identify individuals who pose a security threat and an extensive monitoring process for all relocated refugees that ensures Americans are safe from potential threats.”
Last month the House Judiciary Committee approved in a 18-9 vote the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act, which sets a cap of 60,000 refugee admissions from all countries each year – down from the goals of 85,000 and 100,000 set by Obama for FY 2016 and FY 2017.
The GOP-drafted legislation would also prevent the president from changing the number of refugee admissions without congressional approval, require regular screening for resettled refugees until they become lawful permanent residents, and prioritize religious minorities fleeing religious persecution.
As of this week, of the 1,366 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the beginning of FY 2016, 97.3 per cent are Sunni Muslims, 1.9 percent are Shi’a and other Muslims, and 0.6 percent are Christians.