Three weeks before the attacks in Paris, FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Judiciary Committee. During the hearing, I asked him if he could assure my constituents that Syrian terrorists could not enter the United States posing as refugees and kill Americans. His answer was chilling. Citing a lack of on-the-ground intelligence, including biometric and forensic data, Comey said that information on Syrians is “dramatically” less robust than for Iraqi applicants. According to Comey, “the challenge we face with Syria is we don’t have that rich a set of data.”
I then asked how American law enforcement and intelligence agencies can adapt to adequately vet applicants from chaotic places such as Syria. “Well, that’s a hard one,” Comey acknowledged. “The underlying problem is how do you generate intelligence in failed states, and that’s one I don’t have a good answer for.”
In the shadow of the horror in Paris, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch appeared before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. I reminded her of Director Comey’s testimony, which she reiterated, saying of Syria, “It certainly does present challenges.”
In short, the administration’s top law enforcement officials tell us that we do not have sufficient intelligence and data to properly vet the Syrian refugees. And until we do, I support quick action to protect our national security.
That’s why on Thursday I voted for the bipartisan American Safe Act, which passed the House 289-137. The bill requires the FBI director, the secretary of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence to certify that refugees entering from failed states do not pose threats to our national security.
President Barack Obama has resisted calls to toughen security. Despite the wake-up call from France, he insists on increasing the annual number of refugees to 85,000, including 10,000 from Syria, without adequate background checks.
The risks presented by Islamic State-trained terrorists aren’t hypothetical. Authorities believe that at least one of the Paris terrorists entered Europe as a Syrian refugee. Three days after Paris, the Islamic State vowed to strike Washington as part of a terrorist “storm.” ISIS carried out a double suicide bombing in Beirut and claimed responsibility for downing a Russian passenger jet in Egypt.
Idahoans are big-hearted people who welcome newcomers eager to contribute to our communities. But we can’t let terrorists take advantage of our compassion.
We need real reform in the screening process, including better oversight of security procedures prior to admission, congressional authority over annual admission caps and additional background checks for those coming from dangerous countries such as Syria. We also need to reform the Visa Waiver program that allows nationals of certain nations to enter the U.S. without much scrutiny.
In coming weeks, I will be working closely with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and other lawmakers as we focus on long-term legislative fixes to strengthen the refugee program and ensure the safety and security of all Americans.
Rep. Raul Labrador of Eagle represents the 1st District of Idaho in the U.S. House of Representatives.