Announcements / January 2017

Resettlement fact check: refugees are heavily vetted before entering states, and have rights similar to U.S. citizens

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A recent statement by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reflects the misinformation that many Americans have regarding refugees resettling into states.

“We want to make sure Homeland Security’s got an aggressive and appropriate vetting process, to have an idea who’s coming in, where they’re coming from, how long they’re anticipating being here,” Walker stated. “Right now, we don’t get any of that information. And as you can imagine, it’s frustrating for us, it’s frustrating for law enforcement. And it’s not to say that refugees aren’t legit; we’ve had refugees before, we’ll have refugees going forward from any number of countries. We just want to make sure we can guarantee our safety.”

Politifact Wisconsin clarifies the vetting and resettlement procedures in the United States:

1. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determines who is eligible as a refugee.

2. Refugees referred to the United States are vetted through a process that involves multiple federal intelligence and security agencies. Their names, biographical information and fingerprints are run through databases coordinated by the FBI, and the departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense.

(For Syrian refugees, there’s one additional step (more details here). Their filings with the UN and initial documents submitted to the U.S. program are reviewed. Information about where they came from, what caused them to flee and what their experiences were like are cross-referenced with classified and unclassified information.)

3. While the checks are being conducted, Homeland Security officers interview the refugees in person. Refugees who’ve been cleared by an officer, the State Department and the background checks then undergo medical screenings, a match with a sponsor agency, “cultural orientation” classes and one final security clearance.

There is no legal requirement for states to be notified when someone enters. Refugees enjoy freedom of movement just as American citizens do. However, there are other actors such as resettlement agencies that do know when refugees arrive, as they assist refugees through the first stages of beginning their new lives. More specific information on admissions and arrivals can be found at the Refugee Processing Center.

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