The past few years have seen an increasingly volatile global social, economic, and political climate fraught with several civil wars, the rise of deadly terror groups, and a significant amount of unrest and violence that has led to refugees fleeing their homelands in numbers not seen since World War II.

In a post-9/11 America, national security has understandably become a critical topic of discussion and focus, and oftentimes a divisive, hot button issue. In the wake of recent terror attacks and the discovery that some terrorists may be attempting to pose as refugees in order to obtain entry to countries which they are planning to attack, the American security measures behind granting refugee status have jumped to the forefront of political debate and national consciousness.

Proponents of accepting refugees to the United States cite the moral obligation of aiding those in need–one must have faced persecution or be in danger of persecution to be granted refugee status–as well as the intensive screening process which one must go through in order to be granted refugee status as grounds for their position. On the other hand, opponents say that the refugee security screening measures are not strong enough and that the potential for terrorist infiltration outweighs the moral justifications.

In this blog we will explain the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ refugee screening security measures so you can better understand how the process works.

The US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) subjects potential refugees to the highest degree of security screening and background checks of any category or traveler seeking to immigrate to or enter the United States. This interagency effort, comprised of both foreign and domestic government and non-government entities, utilizes numerous biographic and biometric background checks (coordinated with law enforcement and intelligence agencies) along with interviews and other information to thoroughly screen every potential refugee and their family members to ensure they are eligible for refugee status and do not pose any threat to US national security. The screening process goes as follows: First, the potential refugee is usually referred by the UN refugee agency (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR) based on an assessment of eligibility and vulnerability. Next, a US Resettlement Support Center (RSC) will conduct preliminary prescreening interviews with the potential refugees and initiate the first biographic background checks. USCIS will then conduct an eligibility interview after reviewing the results of the biographic check, collect fingerprints, initiate the biometric background check, and request more biographic screening as needed. If these intensive security screenings are cleared, then USCIS will adjudicate the refugee application (form I-590). If approved, the RSC will process the potential refugee for travel to the US, including conducting medical exams and coordinating the a domestic refugee resettlement agency. All flight manifests and travel information will be screened by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as well as the Travel Security Administration (TSA). When the refugee arrives on US soil, CBP will make the final determination regarding their admissibility to the US and decide whether or not to allow them to enter. The aforementioned biographic checks, which are conducted numerous times during prescreening before the potential refugee leaves for the US and upon arrival in the US, include running names and aliases through the Department of State Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS), the Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) name check conducted by the FBI and partner intelligence agencies, and Interagency Checks (IAC) through other intelligence community partners. The biometric (fingerprinting) checks are run through the FBI Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, the Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System, and the Department of Defense’s Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA)’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS). If any national security concerns are raised at any point in the refugee application and screening process, USCIS will conduct further reviews through the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Process (CARRP). Despite the current fears surrounding the security of the refugee screening process, it is in fact the most difficult way for anyone to enter the United States because of the intricate and numerous background checks conducted across numerous agencies worldwide. If you need legal counsel regarding an application for refugee status, please contact the law office of Landerholm Immigration today.