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One of the Paris attackers may have entered Europe posing as a refugee from Syria. That's prompted many governors here in the U.S. to object to Syrian refugees settling in their states. The Obama administration says refugees are vetted extensively before they enter the U.S., but security experts warn of gaps in that process. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The administration says Syrians, like all refugees who hope to come to the U.S., are subject to the highest level of security checks of anyone entering the country. First, they're screened by the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. Those who are selected for possible entry to the U.S. are then subject to vetting by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center and the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland security. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says it's a rigorous process.
JOSH EARNEST: They go through databases that are maintained by DHS, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. There is biographical and biometric information that's collected about these individuals. They have to submit to in-person interviews to discuss their case.
NAYLOR: Administration officials say refugees from Syria undergo additional screening that looks at where the refugee came from and what caused them to flee their home - stories that are checked out. All of this occurs before a refugee is allowed to set foot in the country. David Leopold is an immigration attorney who has represented refugees.
DAVID LEOPOLD: I can't imagine a more rigorous, detailed, extensive, careful process than the one that the United States government now applies to any refugee seeking to come to the United States for safe haven.
NAYLOR: The U.S. has admitted some 1,800 Syrian refugees in the past two years. President Obama wants to allow 10,000 more. The administration says half of those who have been admitted are children. About a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age. The vetting process takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
Once the refugees are in the country, they're resettled by 1 of 9 nonprofit groups which include faith-based organizations. Most rely on volunteers to find refugees homes, furniture, school equipment and jobs. Yet, as thorough was the vetting process may sound, not everyone is convinced it's completely adequate - FBI Director James Comey, for one.
JAMES COMEY: My concern there is that there are certain gaps they don't want to talk about publicly in that - in the data available to us.
NAYLOR: One particular concern is while it's all well and good to check refugees against names on a terrorist watch list, U.S. intelligence in Syria has its own inadequacies that makes compiling a thorough list of possible terrorists difficult. Seth Jones is with the RAND Corporation.
SETH JONES: U.S. intelligence collection in Syria is simply not as good. The U.S. doesn't have the capabilities, the footprint on the ground in Syria that it's had in other places.
NAYLOR: So, says Jones...
JONES: Vetting them isn't going to get - isn't going to come up with a match because their names haven't gotten on a database.
NAYLOR: Administration officials are briefing governors and members of Congress to reassure them about the vetting process. A senior administration official who asked not to be identified worries about losing the program's traditional bipartisan support which the official called a rare thing in the current political climate. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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