Syrian refugee screening process in the U.S. includes biometrics, biographical data

November 18, 2015 - 

Following the Paris attacks, members of the Republican party are recommending a halt to the federal program that relocates Syrian refugees in the U.S. out of concerns that a terrorist could enter the country under the guise of a refugee, according to a report by Time.com.

However, President Obama and other Democrats have reassured the GOP that all refugees admitted into the U.S. go through extensive background checks while a small number of individuals coming from Syria undergo additional layers of security screening.

“Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees are the single most heavily screened and vetted,” said Jana Mason, a senior adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The security screening process starts with a referral from UN refugee agency UNHCR, which has already registered 15 million refugees around the world.

The comprehensive registration process includes refugee interviews, home country reference checks and biometrics screening such as iris scans — an effort that effectively weeds out any military combatants.

Many law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies including the State Department, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, conduct “the most rigorous screening of any traveler to the U.S.,” said a senior administration official.

A DHS officer performs in-person interviews with all applicants. Additionally, officials collect biometrics data such as fingerprints and match them against criminal databases.

Biographical data including past visa applications are also heavily analyzed to ensure the legitimacy of the applicant’s story.

The entire screening process takes 18 to 24 months on average, with just over 50% of asylum seekers passing the screening.

Over the last year, approximately 1,800 refugees have resettled in dozen states across the U.S.

The security checks hold a pretty strong track record. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, none of the 750,000 refugees admitted into the country have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, though two Iraqis in Kentucky were charged with aiding al-Qaeda in terrorist attacks.

President Obama aims to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees between now and next October.

Previously reported, Acting Deputy Chief Mr. Lee Bowes of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) gives his perspective on the biometrics division, which over just this year collected biometrics on 3.8 million individuals across 138 domestic sites and many international locations.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.