As Americans, we have a long tradition of helping refugees who, through no fault of their own, are fleeing war and persecution and wish to become contributing members of our society. It’s a moral calling and one of the things that makes our country great. However, the most important factor when it comes to America’s refugee program is ensuring the safety and security of the American people. There are already documented cases of terrorists infiltrating the program, and with ISIS vowing to exploit it further, the time for congressional action is now.
This week, the House Judiciary Committee began considering legislation we introduced to fix our broken refugee program. Our bill implements stronger vetting, gives states and communities the power to decline resettlement, and lowers the annual refugee ceiling to the number recommended by President Trump. It’s a smart bill that is worthy of bipartisan support.
To be clear, we support America’s refugee program. But it needs to be modernized to keep pace with the security challenges of today’s world.
According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, more than 300 people who came to the United States as refugees are under active terror-related investigations by the FBI. Several refugees have already been arrested on federal terrorism charges. For example, two Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States in 2009 — Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan — confessed to using improvised explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and sending weapons and money to al Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing American soldiers. Last year, two refugees from Iraq — Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan and Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab — were arrested for attempting to provide material support to ISIS and for lying to U.S. immigration officials about their alleged ties to terrorist organizations. This is a serious failure of the government’s most important responsibility — keeping the American people safe.
Under current law the American people have little say about the refugee program since their elected representatives have little authority over the number of refugees admitted into the country, or where they are resettled.
When concerns about the lack of vetting for Syrian refugees erupted in 2015, over half of America’s governors opposed letting them into their states. This opposition tracked with the American people, as poll after poll showed a majority had concerns about accepting Syrian refugees. Resettlement continues despite their concerns.
Our Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act fixes these problems. The bill enhances the integrity of the refugee program, curbs fraud and protects national security. Notably, it requires the implementation of a fraudulent document detection program and the creation of a searchable database of scanned documents. It also requires federal immigration officers to review publicly available internet postings, including social media, for each applicant.
The bill creates a second line of defense once the refugee is admitted by allowing regular security vetting of each admitted refugee until they change their immigration status. It also requires the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to report on the security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, the number of refugees convicted of terrorism-related offenses, and the use of federally funded benefit programs.
Our bill empowers the American people by allowing their elected officials to decide whether to resettle refugees in their communities. The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act reduces the refugee ceiling to 50,000 annually — the number proposed by President Trump — and shifts to Congress authority to change the number. No longer will the president be able to decide unilaterally how many refugees come to the United States, as President Obama repeatedly did. This ensures uniformity, with Congress setting annual limits, as is the case for all other immigration programs with annual limits.
The American people have been — and will always be — compassionate and generous, but we must not allow bad actors to take advantage of that. The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act makes meaningful reforms to our refugee program, enabling it to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.
• Raul Labrador is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Idaho and vice chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.