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Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty

Representing the 5th District of Connecticut


Information on the Resettlement of Refugees from Syria in the U.S.

Ensuring our national security and the safety of American families is my greatest responsibility as a representative. Our hearts were broken by the attacks in Paris and Beirut and we stand in solidarity with our allies against any and all terrorists who seek to threaten our humanity. I have heard from hundreds of constituents understandably concerned about the possibility of terrorists entering the United States through the refugee program. They rightly want accountability and assurance that we are doing everything possible to prevent similar attacks here.

I am firmly committed to keeping our country safe and ensuring that the vetting process for refugees is rigorous and thorough. I cosponsored legislation to strengthen the current vetting process for refugees being settled in the U.S. The bill, the Secure Refugee Process Act, H.R. 4079, would deny admission to applications containing insufficient, conflicting, unreliable information, or to those who pose a national security threat as assessed by five federal agencies. The legislation requires monthly reporting to Congress on refugee applicants from Syria and Iraq. I also sent a letter to President Obama with specific questions I have heard from my constituents and which I feel need to be explored to reinforce the safety of the refugee program and our counterterrorism efforts in general.

I stand ready to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration to support and fund improvements to the vetting process to ensure national security. Furthermore, the attacks in Paris and Beirut underscore the need to debate an updated Authorization for the Use of Military Force and work with the international community to address this crisis at its source and restore stability in the region.

Below, please find additional information on the resettlement of refugees from Syria.

By the numbers

        Over 4 million – Syrian refugees who have been forced from their homes through violence and terror
23,092 – Syrian refugees referred to the U.S. by the United Nations since FY 2011
7,014 – Syrians interviewed by Department of Homeland Security since FY 2001
2,034 – Syrian refugees have been admitted since FY 2011
0 – Syrian refugees that have been resettled in the U.S. have been arrested or removed on terrorism charges
*Source: White House & CATO Institute

U.S. Screening Policy

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, undergoing intense background checks, medical screenings and interviews. The approval process averages about 15 months, and involves the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense.

The UN Refugee Agency looks to resettle the most vulnerable candidates, and predominantly selects widows, mothers and their children, the elderly, and those with debilitating medical conditions to resettle in the United States.

U.S. refugee vetting process for Syrian refugees outlined by the Department of Homeland Security

  • Department of Homeland Security Interviews: Refugees are interviewed by Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to determine whether or not they can be approved for resettlement to the United States. These interviews are conducted while refugees are still abroad.
  • Consular Lookout and Watch List check: Biographic checks are conducted against the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS)—which includes watch list information.
  • Security Advisory Opinions from Intelligence and Other Agencies: DHS seeks Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) from law enforcement and intelligence communities for cases that meet certain criteria.
  • National Counterterrorism Center Checks with Intelligence Agency Support: Interagency checks, known as “IAC’s,” are conducted with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) for all refugee applicants within a designated age range, regardless of nationality. In addition, expanded intelligence community support was added to the IAC process in July 2010, and recurrent vetting was added in 2015 so that any intervening derogatory information that is identified after the initial check has cleared but before the applicant has traveled to the United States will be provided to DHS.
  • DHS and FBI Biometric Checks: Fingerprints are screened against the vast biometric holdings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Next Generation Identification system, and are screened and enrolled in DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT). Through IDENT, the applicant’s fingerprints are screened not only against watch list information, but also for previous immigration encounters in the United States and overseas—including cases in which the applicant previously applied for a visa at a U.S. embassy.
  • Enhanced Review for Syrian Cases: In addition to the many biometric and biographic checks conducted, DHS-USCIS has instituted additional review of Syrian refugee applications. Before being scheduled for interview by a DHS-USCIS officer (while the refugee is still abroad), Syrian cases are reviewed at DHS-USCIS headquarters. All cases that meet certain criteria are referred to the DHS-USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) for additional review and research. FDNS conducts open-source and classified research on referred cases and synthesizes an assessment for use by the interviewing officer. This information provides case-specific context relating to country conditions and regional activity, and is used by the interviewing officer to inform lines of inquiry related to the applicant’s eligibility and credibility. DHS-USCIS reports that FDNS engages with law enforcement and intelligence community members for assistance with identity verification and acquisition of additional information.
  • Additional Screening Checks on Entry: When they travel to the United States, refugees are subject to screening conducted by DHS-U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center-Passenger and the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight program prior to their admission to the United States, as is the case with all individuals traveling to the United States regardless of immigration program.


Additional resources

Security Screening and Background Checks

Security Screening of Refugees Admitted to the U.S.