How States' Opposition to Syrian Refugees May Impact Settlement

Obama administration officials have clarified the screening process.

ByABC News
November 17, 2015, 2:13 PM

— -- More governors are joining the chorus of those announcing that they will refuse Syrian refugees in their state, and while they technically have no power when it comes to stopping the federal program, they could impact refugee placements.

A senior Obama administration official reiterated to reporters today that the United States' refugee program is a federally mandated, federally funded program and the refugees allowed into the country are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

However, she did say that the recent wave of opposition to accepting Syrian refugees could cause complications. The opposition comes in light of the revelation that one of those involved in the deadly Paris terror attacks appeared to have used a Syrian passport and fake name to slip into Europe disguised as a refugee.

"I think the entire program is contingent on the support of the American people," the senior administration official said this morning.

"The thing I most fear ... we will lose the bipartisan support for this program that it has enjoyed for decades," she said.

Where in the U.S. Do the Refugees Go?

The refugees are placed by nine organizations that work with the State Department, six of which are faith-based, and are placed in communities across the country.

"We don't want to send refugees anywhere where they would not be welcomed and we find that refugees are welcomed almost anywhere in the united states," she said.

What Kind of Screenings Do the Refugees Go Through?

All refugees have to go through biographic screenings where they detail their name, date of birth and other personal information.

"Iraqis and Syrians tend to be a very, very heavily documented population," the official said, noting that many have family registries and military documentation.

The second screening all refugees must go through is a biometric screening that includes fingerprinting.

The results of the biometric screenings are then run through the FBI and its records to see if anyone has a criminal record from previous visits to the United States. The results are also run through the Department of Homeland Security records and civil records from an individual's previous interactions with authorities to see if the person has been consistent about their biographical information.

A different senior administration official noted that all Syrian refugees have to go through an enhanced screening, which includes having their files reviewed by refugee specialists at government headquarters.

They also have a direct interview with specially trained Department of Homeland Security officers who has special training in interviewing refugees. For Syrian refugees, those "non-adversarial interviews" take place mostly in Amman, Jordan and Istanbul, Turkey, though there are smaller numbers that also take place in Lebanon, the senior administration official said.

When it comes to placing refugees in the United States, the nine organizations work with local communities and a large number of volunteers who help in many aspects in the refugees' lives, from picking them up at the airport to donating furniture and finding the adults jobs. Local officials like the mayors, police chiefs and school administrators are all alerted before refugees are placed in communities, the official said.

An official also confirmed that just over 50% of all Syrian applicants are accepted, with the others divided roughly in half into those who are rejected and those whose applications are pending. Half of all those accepted are children, a quarter are individuals over the age of 60 and only 2% of the remaining quarter are "single males of combat age," the official said.

What Will Happen If Governors Oppose the Refugee Program?

Administration officials are scheduled to have a conference call with governors later today to talk about the growing opposition, with officials stressing how accepting refugees is a "proud American tradition."

"Slamming the door in their face would be a betrayal of our values," and official said this morning.

ABC News' Jan Diehm contributed the graphic to this report.