Editorial — How refugees are vetted

Judging by the letters and comments The Record has received in the mail and on social media recently, it appears there’s a great deal of misinformation floating around related to refugees and the process that admits them to the United States.

Refugees are vetted over the course of 18 to 24 months, succumbing to screenings that examine their health and their backgrounds.

Believe it or not, the U.S. government and its refugee resettlement partners — including the Catholic Church — take security seriously. They don’t aim to bring terrorists to our shores; they aim to aid families that are victims of the terrorists we fear. Take a moment to read a brief summary about the vetting process as described by the U.S. Department of State.

Registration and Data Collection
Usually, refugees are referred by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which collects initial documentation and biographical information.

This information is transferred to a Department of State-funded Resettlement Support Center (RSC). The RSC conducts an in-depth interview with the applicant, enters the applicant’s documentation into the Department of State’s Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System (WRAPS), cross references and verifies the data and sends the information necessary to conduct a background check to other U.S. agencies.

Security Checks Begin
U.S. national security agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense, and the Department of State, as well as the intelligence community, begin screening the applicant using the data transmitted from the RSCs.

The screening checks for security threats, including connections to known bad actors, and past immigration or criminal violations. For Syrian applicants, DHS conducts an additional enhanced review. Refugees are screened more carefully than any other type of traveler to the U.S.

DHS Interview
Security screening results from each agency are transmitted back to DHS and the State Department. Specially trained DHS officers review initial screening results, conduct in-person interviews in the host country, and collect biometric data from the applicants.

The DHS interview confirms the information collected from the previous interviews. Additional interviews are conducted as new information arises. With each interview, data is verified in person and in WRAPS. If new information emerges during the interview, the information is entered into WRAPS and additional security checks are conducted. If inconsistencies emerge at any point, the case is put on hold until the inconsistencies are resolved.

Biometric Security Checks
Fingerprints collected by U.S. government employees are stored in a DHS database and screened against:

• The FBI biometric database;
• The DHS biometric database, which includes watch-list information and previous immigration encounters in the U.S. and overseas; and
• The U.S. Department of Defense database, which includes fingerprints obtained around the world.

These fingerprint screening results are reviewed by DHS. Cases with any problematic results are denied. Otherwise, the process continues.

Cultural Orientation and Medical Check
Cultural Orientation: Applicants complete a class designed to teach them about American culture, customs and practices.

Medical Check: All refugees approved by DHS undergo a medical screening to identify diseases of public health significance.

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