- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Refugees can be admitted to the U.S. without any corroborating documents or physical evidence, the chief of the immigration service told Congress on Wednesday — though he insisted that’s not the typical situation.

Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said a “significant” number of refugees have been implicated in terrorist plots over the past eight years but that the rejection of some 7 percent of Syrian applications proves his officers can spot danger signs.

“We’ve turned a lot of people down,” he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, countered that it was striking that the department knew how many people it denied but couldn’t determine how many refugees have been connected to terrorism. He read off the details of several cases, including a refugee from Iraq, living in Texas, arrested this year for plotting against the U.S.

“We keep seeing instances over and over again of refugees coming to America with an intention to engage in terrorism,” Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Rodriguez acknowledged those cases but said he has improved the vetting process. “We review every new case and ask ourselves, ‘Is there something we should have done differently?’” he said.

The Obama administration has welcomed about 12,500 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016 and has put the U.S. on pace to take in as many as 30,000 Syrians in 2017, which begins Saturday. Overall, the administration has set a target of 110,000 refugees from around the globe.

Federal law lets the president set the refugee cap after consulting Congress. This year, that consultation amounted to a meeting where top officials announced their number, then fielded questions and objections — but didn’t alter their plans.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said that didn’t strike him as consultation, particularly with so many questions still swirling about the government’s ability to vet and assimilate the newcomers.

FBI Director James B. Comey helped ignite the controversy over Syrians last year when he said checks can be made only of information the U.S. has. He added that vetting is limited in the case of Syria, where regime officials don’t share information with the U.S.

Mr. Comey reiterated those concerns at a hearing Wednesday, saying the U.S. can’t check against information it doesn’t have.

Mr. Rodriguez, though, said his agents have become good at spotting questionable information and testing it against their knowledge of conditions in a country to evaluate applicants’ validity.

He also rebutted an internal Homeland Security Department evaluation of the refugee system, which House Republicans released last week, and which deemed “refugee fraud is easy to commit.” That document said a key problem was that applicants can be approved based on testimony and don’t always need corroboration.

“This is a draft document. It is my understanding that it was never issued. We believe it was prepared in 2012. Whoever wrote this didn’t know what they were talking about,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

Under questioning by Mr. Cruz, though, Mr. Rodriguez acknowledged that someone can be admitted without any documentation.

“I am acknowledging that, yes, testimony can be the basis for the grant of a refugee. But it needs to be tested against other information that we know. The country conditions, at a minimum,” he said.

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