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Trump Administration Considers Ways To Up Vetting Of Refugees


When President Donald Trump ordered a halt to refugee admissions into the United States, he called for extreme vetting, and we wondered what exactly has the vetting process been up until now. NPR's Deborah Amos has reported a lot on refugees in the United States and overseas. She recently talked to a Syrian who cleared all the hurdles. And we have her on the line now. Hey, Deb.


GREENE: So tell us about the Syrian refugee and exactly what he had to go through to get to the U.S.

AMOS: Well, he tells me that it's already extreme. It includes extensive face-to-face interviews, five-six hours. And this is to determine credibility. If your story differs in the slightest detail, you can be denied. There are document checks, school records, marriage, birth certificates. The data is checked with nine law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies. There's a criminal background check, iris scan, DNA, fingerprints. There's a health check for communicable diseases. Here is Zach Zubair. He's a Syrian. He was resettled in Durham, N.C., six years ago. He was tortured in a Syrian prison. He says he remembers every single step at the U.S. embassy.

ZACH ZUBAIR: Definitely, they push hard. They try to find way not to accept people in general. They ask you all detail about your cases. They will ask you about all evidence that you have to support you cases. It's really tough.

AMOS: That's Zach Zubair. Now, Syrians, Iraqis and Iranian refugees are the most documented because there's extra security steps in their vetting.

GREENE: And yet, despite all of that, Deb, I mean, President Trump has said he wants more. His new homeland security secretary, John Kelly, suggested that U.S. officials, maybe they could begin examining some social media posts from travelers. That was one idea.

AMOS: Zubair said that that's already happening. He was asked about all of his Facebook pages. He was asked for passwords. He was asked for passwords on his phone, so that's already happening.

GREENE: Well, then what more do you see could be added if, as President Trump says, he's going to study this and consider how to tighten up the vetting?

AMOS: I posed that question to Mark Krikorian. He heads the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, and he's close to people inside the Trump administration. He says security vetting is good, but he expects additional questions for opinions.

MARK KRIKORIAN: What it means is a kind of ideological screening to keep out people who hate free society even if they're not violent at all. But the ideological vetting is something we do little to none of now.

AMOS: And, David, here's what he's talking about. There'd be additional questions on free speech, freedom of religion or freedom to have no religion, opinions on LGBT people, on female equality. Krikorian says it's to identify people who aren't violent but could be radicalized in the U.S. because of their views.

GREENE: Well, I could see a big debate over that, some people saying that that's really good rigorous testing to help prevent people who could be dangerous coming into the country; others saying that could basically be a religious test for Muslims, right?

AMOS: Krikorian says no, but there will be others who disagree. This would be for every refugee. Krikorian compares it to similar questions travelers were once asked to try to identify communist or Nazi sympathizers. At the moment, the refugee program is suspended for 120 days for review. So we don't know exactly what these questions will be.

GREENE: That's NPR's Deborah Amos. Deb, thanks.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.