White House Tries To Allay Governors' Concerns About Refugee Screening

Nov 23, 2015

Credit Paige Sutherland for NHPR

The Obama Administration is trying to ease concerns raised by some of the nation's governors, including Maggie Hassan, about the screening process for Syrian refugees brought to the United States.

Hassan last week called for a pause in Syrian refugee resettlement and has complained of poor communication from federal officials about the process. According to spokesman William Hinkle, Hassan brought up some of those concerns on a call with other governors and federal officials last week.

“Governor Hassan specifically emphasized that the federal government is not doing enough to communicate with state and local public safety officials about who is being resettled, what their backgrounds are, and how they have been screened,” Hinkle wrote in an email. “Governor Hassan called for improved, regular communications from the federal government to state and local officials and a better coordination system, a call that was echoed by other Governors.”

On a call with reporters Monday afternoon, Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration has spoken with governors both individually and as a group, and officials are trying to provide more details to ease concerns that have come up.

“We are communicating robustly with governors across the nation to allay their fears, which we strongly believe are not well-founded,” Mayorkas said.

Refugees coming to the United States go through detailed screening procedures before arriving — as outlined by Mayorkas, the process requires multiple interviews and checks against databases. It can take up to two years for a person to clear the screening process, he added.

When asked about the White House's attempt to ease governors' concerns, Hassan's spokesman reiterated her desire for more routine communication about resettled refugees and the screening process. Hinkle said the governor appreciates the extra outreach but thinks more needs to be done to address security concerns and improve communication.

“As the Governor has continued to press for answers, she appreciates the additional communications she has received,” Hinkle said, “but she still thinks there is more work to do to address concerns raised by the CIA and FBI and on federal-state communications in general.”