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ICYMI: Sen. Cruz: The Refugee Flow Out of Syria Must Be Treated as a National Security Risk

In September, sent letter to department heads requesting information on policies admitting Syrian refugees to the U.S.

November 16, 2015

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202-228-7561

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in September sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey. In his letter, Sen. Cruz shared grave concerns regarding the Administration’s intent to import tens of thousands of individuals from Syria and elsewhere who have not been properly vetted for ties to ISIS, al Qaeda, al Nusra and other radical Islamic terrorist groups. 

“In the current threat environment – with an Administration that seems more intent on responding to the interests of the world than the needs of the American people – Congress has an obligation to be vocal and, if necessary, resist this effort. To be clear, this has nothing to do with immigration policy and everything to do with national security. Congress needs much more information before we can allow the United States to engage in a process that could wind up spending taxpayer dollars to import terrorism, much less fund that process,” Sen. Cruz wrote.  

Sen. Cruz’s letter can be read in its entirety below and here.

September 23, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Nebraska Avenue Center
Washington, D.C. 20528

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

The Honorable Loretta E. Lynch
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

The Honorable James Comey
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
601 Fourth Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Secretaries Johnson and Kerry, Attorney General Lynch, and Director Comey:

I write today to ask vital questions about the national security vulnerabilities that have been created by this Administration’s and your departments’ handling of the Syrian refugee situation.  The goals and policies developed by you and the President, which apparently seek to ensure the admission of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees over the next few years, have prioritized the needs of foreign nationals of unknown backgrounds, affiliations, and motivations over the safety and security of American citizens.  Far more information is needed than what is currently available to permit this to continue.

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – for which this Administration bears significant blame – has fueled a massive exodus of Syrians and other foreign nationals from the region.  Many of those who are fleeing the barbarism of war-torn Syria have sought refuge in the territories of welcoming Middle Eastern neighbors, as well as the European Union (EU).  The undeniable good will of these countries is being strained by both violence of the entering refugees and a more general overwhelming of their respective social welfare systems.

While what is occurring in the Middle East and Europe is clearly a humanitarian problem, I have grave concern about what appears to be this Administration’s headlong rush to import tens of thousands of individuals from Syria and elsewhere who have not been properly vetted.  This scenario would be of grave concern even in the absence of specific commentary by ISIS, but there is good reason to believe that ISIS is trying to use the outflow of refugees from Syria to help send terror operatives into Europe and the United States.  Given these and other circumstances, the refugee flow out of Syria must be treated as a substantial national security risk.

On Monday, a handful of Administration officials from your respective departments briefed congressional staff on the effort to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to the United States.  While we are grateful for this outreach, the briefing exposed significant vulnerabilities in the way the Administration has chosen to handle these refugees, raising the more fundamental question of whether the Administration should be exerting such an effort to import potential national security threats.

In the current threat environment – with an Administration that seems more intent on responding to the interests of the world than the needs of the American people – Congress has an obligation to be vocal and, if necessary, resist this effort.  To be clear, this has nothing to do with immigration policy and everything to do with national security.  Congress needs much more information before we can allow the United States to engage in a process that could wind up spending taxpayer dollars to import terrorism, much less fund that process.

In light of the above, I therefore request that your departments engage in the following preservation efforts, effective immediately:

1. Preserve all classified and unclassified paper-based documents, e-mail-based communications, e-mail-based calendar appointments, electronic documents, electronic communications (including voicemails, SMS (i.e., text) messages, and instant messages), and all other electronic data regardless of format, created since October 1, 2013, that:

a. Discuss or relate to any aspect of conflict in Syria and/or Iraq;
b. Discuss or relate to refugees originating from any Middle Eastern, African, or Central Asian country;
c. Are the records of General John Allen (USMC, Ret.), the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, his staff, and any other federal personnel involved in this effort; and
d. Otherwise include the phrases or terms “Islamic State,” “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” or “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” the words or acronyms “Daesh,” “ISIS,” or “ISIL,” or any related phrases, terms, words, or acronyms.

2. Exercise any and all reasonable efforts to identify and notify former department employees, contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, and consultants who may have access to such electronic or non-electronic records that these records are also to be preserved.

3. If it is a practice of your department, any department component, any federal employee, any contract employee, any grantee or subgrantee, or any consultant to destroy or otherwise alter such electronic or non-electronic records, either halt such practices immediately, or arrange for the preservation of complete and accurate duplicates or copies of such records, suitable for production if requested.

Please also provide the following unredacted documents and information for the time period from October 1, 2013, to the present (unless a different time period is specified below):

1. Please provide a detailed description of the process that is used to vet the individuals seeking entry to the United States as refugees from Syria.

2. Please provide information regarding the different federal, state, and international anti-terrorism and criminal databases that are used to cross-check the possible terrorist or criminal backgrounds of individuals seeking entry to the United States as refugees from Syria.

3. If an individual who is seeking entry to the United States as a refugee from Syria does not register on any federal, state, or international anti-terrorism or criminal database, is it your respective departments’ positions that such individual has zero involvement in terrorism and should enter the United States?

4. Given that the United States has virtually no military or intelligence presence in Syria at the present time, which in turn likely means it also has zero ability to verify the administrative or civilian records of individuals making assertions of Syrian citizenship, please explain what serves as the basis for refugee application approval and/or admission to the United States.

5. Can an individual seeking entry to the United States as a refugee from Syria have their refugee application approved and be admitted to the United States solely based on their own assertions of identity and nationality?

6. Please provide additional information on the number of individuals who have sought entry to the United States as refugees from Syria who:
a. Are males under the age of 18 years old;
b. Are males 18 years old and older;
c. Have received or are receiving enhanced screening; and
d. Were approved and allowed to enter the United States after receiving enhanced screening.

7. Please indicate the nationalities of the individuals who are seeking entry to the United States as refugees from Syria (broken down by both raw numbers and percentages).

8. Do any of your departments make any efforts to apprehend (for federal prosecution or extradition) any individual seeking entry to the United States as a refugee from Syria if such individual is believed to be suspected of international terrorist or criminal activity?  If the answer is no, please explain why.

9. Please provide the following additional information about the individuals seeking entry to the United States as refugees from Syria:
a. What biographic and/or biometric information, if any, is collected for adults;
b. What biographic and/or biometric information, if any, is collected for children;
c. The degree to which such biographic and/or biometric information is saved and/or stored for future, domestic anti-terrorism and/or law enforcement purposes; and
d. Any agreements or memoranda of understanding (MOU) that restrict the ability of federal, state, and/or local law enforcement to access such biographic and/or biometric information.

10. Regarding $419 million that has been pledged by Secretary Kerry as refugee aid:
a. The federal fund or account that is the source of that pledged amount; and
b. The names of the organizations that are recipients of this funding.

11. What special steps, if any, are being made to ensure that Syrian and Iraqi Christians and Jews, who are specifically being targeted by ISIS, are being prioritized at this time.

12. What special steps, if any, are being made to ensure that Syrian and Iraqi nationals who are awaiting receipt of legal permanent residence in the United States are being prioritized at this time.

13. What special steps, if any, is the United States government taking to engage the Gulf States who are minimally involved in the regional relief effort to get involved?

14. What role, if any, is the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement playing in the vetting of individuals seeking entry to the United States as refugees from Syria?

I would also request that you provide us with any additional materials that fall into the above categories on a continuing basis but are created, written, or otherwise produced after the Department’s initial receipt of this request.

Please provide the requested documents and information as soon as possible, but no later than 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 30, 2015.  When producing documents to the Committee, please deliver separate production sets to both the Majority Staff in Room 224 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and the Minority Staff in Room 152 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

I appreciate your cooperation in this very important matter and look forward to receipt of the requested material at the stated date and time.  Please contact Committee staff at (202) 224-5225 if you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,

Ted Cruz
Chairman
Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action,
Federal Rights and Federal Courts

cc: The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
Chairman
Senate Committee on the Judiciary

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Judiciary

The Honorable Christopher A. Coons
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action,
Federal Rights and Federal Courts

The Honorable Leon Rodriguez
Director
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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