Obama administration fails to screen Syrian refugees’ social media accounts
The Obama administration isn’t vetting the social media profiles of all Syrian refugees despite promises made last year after the San Bernardino terrorist attack, which exposed holes in the U.S. immigration screening process.
Concerns over refugee screening spurred Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, on Tuesday to cancel his state’s cooperation with federal authorities trying to resettle Syrians.
It was another blow to the administration’s attempts to reach President Obama’s goal of accepting 10,000 Syrians this fiscal year.
With a little more than five months left in the fiscal year, the government is 8,370 refugees short of its goal. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they fear the administration will reduce screening even more to speed up the process. To meet the president’s target, immigration officials would have to approve about 75 applications every workday for the rest of the fiscal year — nearly seven times the average so far.
“What is far more important than the arbitrary number of 10,000 is whether these refugees can be properly screened. If the answer is no, which is obviously the case given testimony by the FBI director and homeland security secretary, then we should not let a single one into the country,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican.
Mr. Buchanan is sponsoring legislation that would force the Homeland Security Department to review social media accounts of anyone seeking entry to the U.S.
His bill has the backing of Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The social media problem burst into view last year after one of the attackers in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist massacre was found to be an immigrant who had posted online of her desire to wage jihad. It turned out she had posted privately, not publicly, but the administration acknowledged that it should be screening social media messages.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez said in February that the administration was increasing its monitoring, including screening social media accounts of those applying as refugees from Syria.
A USCIS official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Tuesday that the agency has not reached that point but insisted that other checks are “extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive.”
The official said the agency tries to find refugee applicants who are most likely to be risks and then attempts to scour their online accounts.
“USCIS conducts risk-based screening on publicly available social media postings in connection with applicants for certain immigration benefits, including certain refugee applicants. DHS also continues to run pilot programs and evaluate the results of these efforts to expand the appropriate use of social media as indicated,” the official said.
Last year, before several major attacks raised security questions, Mr. Obama pledged to increase the number of Syrian refugees in the U.S.
But his plans were undercut by his own top national security officials, including the director of the FBI, who said the government lacks the resources on the ground or the access to Syrian databases to vet applicants completely.
Homeland Security officials said they can check their own databases, but critics warn that it’s impossible to know what risks the applicants pose if they cannot verify refugees’ stories in Syria.
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