Fear and Security, two words that are so often put together and yet one does not necessarily lead to the other.  When faced with such fear we should become informed before jumping to react in ways that may be harmful.  The following Q&As on U.S. Security Checks in Refugee Resettlement address some of the fears we have been hearing over the past week.

If Syrian terrorists can get into Europe, how do we know that they won’t come through the US resettlement program?
The US has the most rigorous and sophisticated security process in the world.  We cannot compare our use refugee process with the European border or visa processing.

What is involved in the security checks?
The US Government has confirmed what refugee resettlement agencies have long known – that refugees being resettled to the US undergo the strictest level of scrutiny and security checks of any individuals seeking permission to enter the country.

Security checks and clearances have become a standard part of the refugee resettlement process.  In the years since the 9/11 attacks, these measures have been regularly updated and expanded in order to incorporate new intelligence information.    

  • Before refugees are ever referred to the U.S. Government, they are fingerprinted and their biographical information is recorded.  In addition, Syrian refugees are also undergoing iris scans.
  • Individual interviews are conducted at several stages of the process to determine if the person meets the refugee definition, including whether or not the person has committed any act of violence or is likely to do so.
  • Department of Homeland Security officials known as the Refugee Corps are specially trained in the law and security risks, and provided in-depth briefings before each deployment.  Before interviewing Syrian refugees, for example, they receive 8 days of detailed briefings on the current situation and questions that need to be answered.
  • Information gathered is checked against multiple intelligence databases, more than once while the refugee waits for approval. (There is an intelligence office for almost every department of the U.S. Government in addition to the NSA.)
  • Individual information is checked against situational reports and other new intelligence, including classified information, as it occurs.
  • Individual information is checked against analysis of the larger patterns and trends reported by specialists and colleagues to test the veracity of the individual’s claims.

How long does it take? 
Refugees have already been outside the U.S. for months or even years before they even begin the refugee resettlement process.

On average, the background security screening takes 24 months from the time a refugee is referred to the U.S. government.  For Syrians currently hoping to be resettled in the U.S., many have been waiting even longer. 

What if a refugee doesn’t have any identity documents? 
It is common for refugees to not have any identity documents.  Perhaps they were unable to go home to retrieve them or they were lost in flight.  When fleeing persecution by their own government, refugees cannot go to that government to seek a passport.  Requesting documents after the fact is also a challenge.  The entire village may have been burned or the government buildings that hold vital records bombed.  It is precisely because these circumstances are common in refugee situations that the UN refugee agency and governments have developed specialized protocol for the processing of refugees as compared to someone seeking a visa at an embassy.

What if someone in the US Government has doubts about whether or not a refugee might pose a threat to the U.S.?
Then the refugee is not approved for resettlement.  It is not uncommon for there to be inconclusive information available for a US official to make a determination.  In those cases, the answer is No.  Many refugees have been denied resettlement to the U.S., in some locations up to 50% of the time.

So, what can we do to make sure we are as safe and secure as possible?
More effort needs to be put into addressing the root causes of the conflict and putting an end to the violence.  We need the leaders of our various government agencies to be working on solving the big problems, not on reviewing individual refugee cases.  


Stay Updated on Disaster Responses

Join the Rapid Information Network to receive updates and more.