Gleaning Information from the Senate Refugee Hearing

By Dan Cadman on September 30, 2016

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week entitled "Oversight of the Administration's FY 2017 Refugee Resettlement ‎Program". Three officials testified.

It can be expected that senior government officials' written testimony at such hearings will be written to put forward their agencies' and the administration's best spin on the program under the spotlight, in this case the increasingly suspect U.S. refugee program. Even so, some interesting facts can come to light, and often there is much to be gleaned from exactly how things are phrased or from what is not said. Here are a few things that caught my attention:

The three witnesses:

  • Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Department of State;
  • León Rodríguez, director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security; and
  • Robert Carey, director, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services.

Henshaw (State Department)

The United States will admit approximately 85,000 refugees in FY 2016. ... the United States intends to admit up to 110,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2017.

Comment: This is a 30 percent increase in refugee admissions in the span of a single year, at a time when public confidence in the screening capability of the program is at its nadir.

[By the end of federal fiscal year (FY) 2016] the United States will admit approximately 85,000 refugees in FY 2016, with the largest numbers coming from Burma, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Syria. ... The United States intends to admit up to 110,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2017, which will include growing numbers of refugees from Africa — up to 35,000 — and a greater number of refugees from Near East/South Asia, primarily Syrians, Iraqis, and Iranians, among others.

Comments: 1) It's unclear why we would continue to admit Burmese as refugees, given the dramatic democratic turnaround in that country. Aung San Suu Kyi, activist and opponent of the military junta, now runs the country for all intents and purposes, and recently addressed the U.N. General Assembly and met with our president. 2) Note that three of the top five countries mentioned by Henshaw (Iraq, Somalia and Syria) from which we will admit refugees are terrorism hotspots with multiple Islamist groups actively hostile to the United States.

In December 2014, the administration established an in-country refugee and parole program for children in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Under the initial program, parents who meet the program's eligibility criteria could file to bring their unmarried children under age 21 to join them in this country, and in certain circumstances, the second parent could be approved to travel with the approved child to the United States. In July 2016, the Administration announced an expansion of the program to include other categories of relatives. As of September 2016, parents have submitted more than 10,000 applications and nearly 1,000 children have arrived to join parents in the United States. Thousands more will be joining parents in the coming months.

Comments: Note use of the phrase "refugee and parole program". (Emphasis added.) What Henshaw does not say in his testimony is that almost all of the individuals interviewed are not, in fact, refugees but still are being paroled into the United States. What's more, they are being paroled to join family — mostly parents — already illegally in the United States.

Note also the program creep we are witnessing in the "Central American Minors" program; first it was announced for "minors" (up to the age of 21); then it was expanded to include the left-behind parent so that she/he can join the other parent who has already entered and is living in the United States illegally; Now it is being expanded to include "other categories of relatives".

Finally, compare the program to public remarks by Guatemalan and Honduran officials, who candidly acknowledge that would-be migrants leaving their country are doing so for economic and family reunification reasons — and not because they are "refugees". (See here and here.)

Considered in total, it seems fair to assert that by means of this program, the federal government has taken on the role of alien smuggler, although of course the administration garbs the program in the legal finery of the "immigration parole" mechanism. And it is almost certainly being done to avoid public consternation over waves of Central American migrants massing at our southern border—particularly important during a presidential election year. This is such an egregious misuse of the parole statute, and of the refugee-administering arms of the government, as to approach criminal malfeasance.

Rodriguez (Homeland Security)


All refugees entering our country are subject to the highest level of security check of any category of any traveler to the United States and admitted only after successfully completing a stringent security screening process. ... Security checks are an integral part of the USRAP process for applicants of all nationalities [and] a refugee applicant is not approved for travel until the results of all required security checks have been obtained and cleared. ... All available biographic and biometric information is vetted against a broad array of law enforcement, immigration, Intelligence Community, and other relevant databases to help confirm a refugee applicant's identity, check for any criminal or other derogatory information, and identify information that could inform lines of questioning during the interview.

Comment: Notwithstanding Director Rodriguez's assurances, the fact remains that the vetting takes place against an informational vacuum created by regional instability and years-long wars that have erased many national information registries. In addition, the vital records of some nations, such as Syria, are unavailable to U.S. agencies because the regime in power is hostile to the United States. You cannot vet what you have no information to vet against. Even the directors of National Intelligence and the FBI have acknowledged that vetting efforts will inevitably be fallible. More tellingly, senior State Department officials have also recently gone on record acknowledging that ISIS jihadists have already attempted to penetrate the refugee camps with an intent to enter the United States.

With the advent of large-scale processing of Iraqi applicants in 2007, USCIS officers who adjudicate Iraqi refugee applications began receiving an additional two-day training on country-specific issues, including briefings from outside experts from the law enforcement, intelligence, policy, and academic communities. This training has since expanded to a one-week training in order to include Syria-specific topics in addition to Iraqi ones. (Emphasis added.)

Comment: Training of only one week to absorb the intricacies of the protracted and convoluted wars in Iraq and Syria — not to mention the proliferation of various shades of armies, militias, rebels, and terrorist groups — hardly seems sufficient to the challenge of detecting threats to the national security prior to making decisions to admit individuals to the United States.

In 2015, all partners coordinated to launch IAC [Interagency Check] recurrent vetting. With recurrent vetting, any intervening derogatory information that is identified after the initial check has cleared but before the applicant has traveled to the United States is shared with USCIS without the need for a subsequent query, making the process more efficient.

Comment: Given the months-long delays between interview and case approval, and the additional delays between approval and actual admission to the United States, it is dismaying that a recurrent vetting program was only begun in 2015. It belies the repeated assurances of "the most stringent vetting" that dot Director Rodriguez's testimony.

To date, USCIS has conducted several pilots in which applicant data is screened against specific social media platforms.

Comment: It is interesting that Director Rodriguez gives no date on when these pilots began. Was it perhaps about the time that all hell was breaking loose when the public discovered that Tashfeen Malik had used social media to announce her jihadist views, but was nonetheless admitted to the United States? That these social media checks are referred to as "pilots" is also no great comfort because it is a tacit admission that USCIS is behind the curve on this fundamental screening mechanism — one that corporations have been using as a part of their pre-employment arsenal for years.

Carey (Refugee Resettlement)


Between FY 2010 and FY 2015, approximately ... 65,000 [refugees were admitted ]from Bhutan. ... Refugee arrivals in FY 2015 included ... 6,000 from Bhutan.

Comment: Bhutan is a tiny country bordering the very north of India on China's border. Given the unsettled state of the globe, admitting 65,000 Bhutanese in a five-year period is astounding. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the entire population of Bhutan is just over 750,000, which means that the United States has expended its finite refugee resources to admit almost 9 percent of the entire population of the country of Bhutan. This smacks of skewed priorities.

A portion of new entrants participate in the Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program rather than the refugee cash assistance program discussed above. Through the Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program, ORR funds U.S. resettlement agencies to assist refugees in achieving economic self-sufficiency...In FY15, the Match Grant program served 29,765 refugees, asylees, entrants, and special immigrant visa holders, and reports economic self-sufficiency rates of approximately 82 percent for refugees at 180 days after arrival.

Comment: To accept these figures is to engage in a willing suspension of disbelief. Eighty-two percent of the participants in this program — consisting, presumably, of desperate individuals fleeing war-torn regions of the world with little or nothing — are self-sufficient within six months?

By comparison, in an article by Don Barnett published in the Tennessean, "According to the most recent government data, even those refugees in the country for five years are largely dependent on taxpayer largesse. Sixty percent of this group receives food stamps and 17 percent are on the cash welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). A nationwide U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study shows 44 percent are still in Medicaid and 29 percent of families who have been here for five years have one or more members on the lifetime cash welfare program Supplemental Security Income (SSI)."

If the Matching program stands in such sharp contrast with other indicia about extended use of government services by refugees, why hasn't it been expanded to encompass the entire population of refugee and asylee entrants? We're left to conclude its because either 1) the government has cherry-picked participants in the program to leave the public with a rosy but essentially false picture of its potential, or 2) the definition of "self-sufficient" used by the Office of Refugee Resettlement is so squishy and flawed as to be meaningless.

[T]he Survivor of Torture Program provides treatment and services to victims of torture regardless of immigration status.

Comment: Are the funds and resources available in this program limitless — or is it likely that some torture survivors who have entered the United States legally under various immigration programs are left out in the cold by the policy decision not to factor an alien's illegal status into program eligibility because the funds have run out? Alternatively, do they face waiting lists for assistance under the program while aliens without status are treated first?

Finally, as the Daily Caller notes, the government witnesses, when pressed by Sen. Jeff Sessions, acknowledged that they do not conduct any kind of screening to determine whether the fundamental views held by refugee applicants (such as belief in honor killing, female genital mutilation, sharia, or the like) are in direct conflict with our Constitution and the cultural values of our country.

These are important questions and act as harbingers of whether such individuals (or, of equal concern, their progeny, who so often show up as the so-called "lone wolves" perpetrating acts of terror in the homeland) are capable of assimilation into the fabric of American life. How, then, can this be called in any meaningful sense "vetting"?