- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Homeland Security says it’s already weeded out 30 Syrian refugee applicants for terrorism or other criminal concerns, and helped deny 2,200 other visitor visas because of terrorism concerns, as officials sought Wednesday to assure Congress the Obama administration is taking threats seriously.

The department has faced questions about its screening since President Obama vowed to accept some 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. this year. Those questions grew after December’s terrorist attack in California and the arrests last month of two refugees from Iraq and Syria on terrorism-related charges.

Top Homeland Security officials said they’ve begun to check the public social media profiles of potential refugees who raise red flags, and hope to quickly begin checking social media for all applicants from Iraq and Syria.

Some 2,000 Syrians have already been admitted, but 30 have been denied, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez told the House Homeland Security Committee. He said several hundred other applications are on hold right now after fraud officers spotted red flags and figured a more thorough investigation was in order.

“Many of those may end up being denied because we are unable to resolve the concerns we have,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

The two refugees arrested last month were approved as part of the Iraqi refugee program, which is what the Syrian program is based on.

President Obama and his top aides have insisted they can properly screen out would-be terrorists.

But the FBI director has raised concerns, saying that with Syria the U.S. doesn’t even have access to on-the-ground resources and government databases, which are critical to checking out a person’s story.

Mr. Rodriguez sparred with Republicans Wednesday over how thorough his agency’s background checks are.

He insisted that when someone comes back clean from a database check, it’s a good thing — but several lawmakers said a database check is useless if the agency doesn’t have access to the right databases on the ground in Syria.

The Obama administration has tried to play down the threat to the refugee program, saying that it can take as long as two years to make it through, which means it’s not an efficient way for the Islamic State or other terrorist groups to try to sneak operatives into the U.S.

Administration officials have also asserted that they generally focus on accepting those who don’t fit the terrorist profile, saying only about 2 percent of those approved are young men of fighting age without families.

But Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, said that excludes young men who do come with families, who make up about 25 percent of the Syrian refugee population.

Indeed, the two young male refugees charged last month both came with families. In one of the cases, authorities have said the man’s father was a cheerleader for his jihadist ambitions.

The refugee program isn’t the only area of concern. The woman who was part of the husband-and-wife terrorist couple in San Bernardino, California, was admitted to the U.S. on a fiancee visa.

Lawmakers said she was apparently already radicalized at the time, but the administration missed the signs.

Lev. J. Kubiak, assistant director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said they’ve stepped up new visa security units that have vetted some 2 million applications from countries of particular special interest. He said 8,000 visas have been rejected with 2,200 of those specifically because of terrorism concerns.

Mr. Kubiak also said because of what they found in those investigations, they were able to add 760 new records to U.S. terrorist databases, which will help investigators in the future.

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