U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Seeks to Balance Welcome, Security


Simon Henshaw with the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration said welcoming refugees is "an important form of American humanitarian leadership." (Screenshot: C-SPAN)

Balancing welcome with national security was addressed in a recent U.S. Senate hearing about the goal of resettling 110,000 refugees in the U.S. in 2017.

Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed concern about Islamic extremists vis-à-vis refugees coming to the U.S. during the Sept. 28 hearing.

"We cannot allow America's welcome mat to be turned into a door mat for radicalized Islamic extremists who are hard-wired to kill innocent people and destroy our way of life," he said.

The Obama administration must "work better with the communities that absorb the influx and commit to a background check system that ensures America remains a safe place for citizens and refugees alike."

Grassley's concerns reflect a widespread fear of refugees in the U.S.

Ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) praised the 110,000 target but emphasized the need "to do so responsibly."

He said that "refugees continue to be the most stringently vetted travelers to the United States" and that "efforts to exclude whole populations simply because of their religion are not only un-American, they are dangerous and play into the false ISIS narrative that the United States is at war with Islam."

"We as a country face a choice," Leahy concluded. "Will we recognize our common humanity and take responsibility to help those who have lost everything and are fleeing for their lives, or will we turn our backs, succumbing to xenophobic rhetoric based on fear, not fact?"

León Rodríguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), emphasized U.S. "commitment to [both] our national security and humanitarian mandates" in his remarks.

This dual emphasis is pursued through "strong and deep relationships" between the refugee resettlement program and "colleagues in the law enforcement, national security and intelligence communities."

Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said welcoming refugees is "an important form of American humanitarian leadership."

He noted that "the backbone of this [refugee admission and resettlement] program are the countless faith-based volunteers, community members, local organizations and elected leaders that ensure its success in communities across the country."

Henshaw echoes Leahy's comments that refugees are "subject to the most intensive screening than any other type of traveler to the United States."

"Syrian refugees go through yet additional forms of security screening tailored to the particular conditions of the Syrian crisis," he said.

These remarks echoed what he said about the U.S. vetting process for refugees during a January 2016 panel discussion. "Someone that was trying to get into [the U.S. refugee] system would have registered as a refugee, sat around for months, sometimes years, and then be lucky enough to be one of the 1 percent; and then we run them through this very extensive system to make sure they're not a security threat."

Editor's note: EthicsDaily.com's documentary, "Gospel Without Borders," addresses immigration by separating myth from fact and examining what the Bible says about treatment of the "stranger." A free PDF resource sheet on immigration and immigration reform is available here. Related articles can be accessed using the following keywords: Immigration, Migrants and Refugees.

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