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As Syrian Refugees Head To Texas, Former DHS Chiefs Defend Resettlement Process

Twelve Syrian refugees were expected to arrive in Texas on Monday, including a family of six in Dallas.

Meanwhile, a Dallas federal judge on Monday said there would be no hearing this week on the state’s lawsuit over Syrian refugees. 

Also, on Monday, former Department of Homeland Security secretaries described what they consider an extensive vetting process for refugees coming to the U.S.

The state last week sued the federal government and the International Rescue Committee over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas. It ultimately backed down from blocking their arrival, but it still wanted a hearing by this Wednesday. On Monday, U.S. District Judge David Godbey denied that request.

During a conference call with attorneys, Godbey told them to keep filing legal briefs, according to Rebecca L. Robertson, Legal and Policy Director for the ACLU, which represents the resettlement agency, or IRC. Roberston said that once all of the documents have been submitted, Godbey can decide whether to schedule a hearing.

For refugees, getting into the United States takes a long time. It’s complicated, according to two former Department of Homeland Security secretaries who defended the resettlement process during a call with reporters on Monday.

“If you were trying to insert an operational terrorist into the United States, having them sit for 18 months to two years on the hope that they could fool everybody and get in, would, I think, probably not be the most operationally attractive thing for a terrorist leader,” said Michael Chertoff, former DHS secretary under George W. Bush.

He said a possible trip to the U.S. starts with a referral by the United Nations. Then, the refugees are checked against different databases, including terrorist watch lists. They also participate in multiple interviews.

“We’re sending people into the field who are looking for discrepancy in stories, checking what they’re being told against facts that we do know about people, cross-comparing stories when you’re interviewing multiple people, and it’s a lengthy process,” Chertoff said.

Texas is one of about 30 states that has questioned the resettlement process, following last month’s deadly attacks in Paris.

The Syrian refugees are escaping violence in their homeland. Twenty-one of them are scheduled to arrive in Texas this week – a family of six settling in Dallas are joining relatives already living in North Texas.

During Monday’s press call, former DHS chief Janet Napolitano defended the refugee resettlement program.

“No one should presume that one gets refugee status easily,” Napolitano said. “That’s just not the way the programs work. And the cost to United States would be quite significant if we turned off the programs.”

Ultimately, she said, it would hurt how the U.S. is viewed around the world and how Americans view themselves.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.