(CNSNews.com) - Several lawmakers pressed Homeland Security Secretary Gen. Jack Kelly about Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, asking him why it was left out of President Trump's executive order on immigration, when 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks came from Saudi Arabia.
Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee that putting Saudi Arabia on the list would bolster the argument that President Trump's temporary immigration ban is about religion.
Kelly explained several times that the immigration pause "is all about countries that are not cooperative or can't be cooperative" in vetting people who want to come to the United States.
He said Saudi Arabia, an Islamic state, doesn't fall into the same category as the other Muslim-majority countries -- Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan:
"And that's exactly why President Trump has decided to take a pause in countries we know are very, very high risk in terms of not only terrorists or potential terrorists, but very high risk in terms that they don't have really any databases we can work with -- police, FBI, that kind of thing, where Saudi Arabia does have, you know, functioning police and intelligence services that we can work with.
"So at least we know that people that are coming out of that country are, A, who they say they are; B, why they're coming to the United States -- whatever reason, tourists or otherwise. But it's pretty hard -- it's impossible to get into someone's head.
"But I would -- I believe if we put someone like Saudi Arabia on the list, given their very good intelligence, very good police work and all that kind of thing, then you could make the argument this is about religion. And it's not."
Kelly said the reason for the immigration pause “was for us to take some time, take a look at the vetting from the seven countries in question.”
He called them “failed states” where the vetting of people “is at best loose.”
“I believe the vetting on the other end right now is not adequate to protect the nation,” Kelly said.
Kelly also noted that two of the seven countries identified as risks by the Obama administration are still listed as state sponsors of terrorism, “and they don’t cooperate with us.”
And the United States does not even have embassies in at least four of the countries.
“So…I’m at a total loss to understand how we can vet, you know, people from -- from various countries when in four of those -- at least four of those countries we don't even have an embassy.”
The four countries are Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. (The United States evacuated its embassy in Yemen in 2015 following an attack by Shiite rebels; it is now operating outside of that country.)