U.S. Congress Questions Plan to Admit Syrian Refugees

A Syrian refugee woman and her children stand near their a tent after the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres visited Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 15, 2015. Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led House Committee on Homeland Security is challenging an Obama administration plan to admit Syrian refugees to the United States, saying it could allow potential terrorists to sneak into the country.

In a letter sent to the White House, Michael McCaul, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee and Peter King and Candice Miller, who chair subcommittees, said the administration's plan "raises serious national security concerns."

The letter, dated Wednesday, said the United States lacks the resources to fully investigate the backgrounds of refugees from Syria, a base for Islamic State militants, before they are admitted to the country.

Anne Richard, an Assistant Secretary of State, said on Dec. 9 that the United States resettled nearly 70,000 refugees from nearly 70 countries in 2013 and that the administration's refugee plans would lead to "resettling Syrians as well."

Richard said the United States was already reviewing around 9,000 Syrian refugee cases referred by a United Nations agency and was receiving "roughly a thousand new ones each month."

Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman, said all refugees including those from Syriawould be rigorously screened.

"Our screening protocols for refugees are rigorous, continually refined, and build on years of experience vetting individuals coming to the United States from around the world," he said in an e-mailed statement. "They permit us to proceed in a way that seeks to both safeguard public safety and serve our mission of providing refuge to some of the world's most vulnerable people."

A State Department official said that the United States was likely to admit 1,000-2,000 Syrian refugees this government fiscal year and a few thousand more in Fiscal Year 2016. The official said that Syrian refugees applying for admission to the United States will "undergo additional screening specific to this population."

The official said that the Department of Homeland Security, which had no immediate comment, had sole authority to grant refugees admission to the United States.