Mobile Menu - OpenMobile Menu - Closed

Connect

Congressman Biggs Leads Letter to Biden Administration about Plans to Weaken Immigration Screening and Vetting

February 10, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressman Andy Biggs led a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing extreme concerns with the Biden administration’s plans to weaken screening and vetting for foreign nationals coming to the United States.

Congressman Biggs was joined on the letter by U.S. Representatives Brian Babin (TX-36), Yvette Herrell (NM-02), Bob Gibbs (OH-07), Jody B. Hice (GA-10), Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (TX-26), Bill Posey (FL-08), Thomas P. Tiffany (WI-07), Chip Roy (TX-21), Bob Good (VA-05), Ronny L. Jackson (TX-13), Michael Cloud (TX-27), Eric A. “Rick” Crawford (AR-01), Scott Perry (PA-10), Glenn Grothman (WI-06), Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01), Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Jodey C. Arrington (TX-19), Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04), Jeff Duncan (SC-03), Mo Brooks (AL-05), Lauren Boebert (CO-03), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Randy K. Weber (TX-14), and W. Gregory Steube (FL-17).

Read the text of the letter below:

Dear Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas:

We urge you to oppose attempts to weaken screening and vetting for foreign nationals coming to the United States, including refugee applicants in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and other humanitarian-based U.S. immigration programs, and instead build on the enhancements that were implemented by the Trump Administration.  We are extremely concerned with the Biden Administration’s plans to weaken screening and vetting for foreign nationals coming to the United States, including refugee applicants in the USRAP and other humanitarian-based U.S. immigration programs.  These plans, as seen in a number of recent Executive Orders, will lead to the permanent resettlement in American communities of more refugees and other humanitarian-based immigrants – as promised by the Biden-Harris campaign – at the expense of our national security and public safety.  That is not a good trade for the United States or for Americans.  Given our concerns, we request that you provide us a briefing to discuss the actions that you will take to ensure that those who enter and are resettled in the United States have been properly vetted.  We look forward to speaking with you about our concerns.

On his first day in office, President Biden revoked Executive Order 13780 on Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.[1] Among other things, Executive Order 13780 directed an interagency effort, now well underway, to:

identify individuals who seek to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis, who support terrorism, violent extremism, acts of violence toward any group or class of people within the United States, or who present a risk of causing harm subsequent to their entry…[including a] uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures, such as in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that applicants are who they claim to be; a mechanism to assess whether applicants may commit, aid, or support any kind of violent, criminal, or terrorist acts after entering the United States; and any other appropriate means for ensuring the proper collection of all information necessary for a rigorous evaluation of all grounds of inadmissibility or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.[2]

These are common-sense measures that your departments should have been taking long before Executive Order 13780 to identify individuals who seek to harm the United States or Americans before they enter the country to prevent their entry is a good thing.  Therefore, we fail to see why the Biden Administration would want to reverse this direction and all the of the work that your departments already have done in support of it. 

More recently, on February 4, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14013 on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration.[3]  This Executive Order purportedly directs departments and agencies to improve the “efficacy” of security vetting.  But notwithstanding its neutral terms, Executive Order 14013 reflects the clear intent of the Biden Administration to weaken screening and vetting of foreign nationals who seek to enter the United States.  Among other things, the Executive Order does the following.    

Disregards Terrorist Risk:  Section 2 revokes Executive Order 13815 on Resuming the United States Refugee Admissions Program with Enhanced Vetting Capabilities, which, among other things, directed your departments to administer the USRAP in a risk-based manner.  The threat to our national security and public safety posed by the resettlement of refugees from high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control is significant and cannot be fully mitigated.  Focusing on resettling refugees from lower-risk areas is a matter of common sense, and that practice should be continued, not ended.

Promotes Fraud by Encouraging Remote Interviews Contrary to Regulation:  Section 4(c) directs your departments to consider the expanded use of “video and audio teleconferencing to conduct refugee interviews and establishing the necessary infrastructure to do so.”  The requirement that all refugee applicants undergo an in-person interview is codified at 8 CFR 207.2, and your departments have previously told Members of Congress and their staff that they regard in-person interviews as an integral and essential anti-fraud measure in USRAP.  If anything, this requirement should be strengthened by allowing refugee adjudicators more time to conduct interviews, as happened with the reforms to USRAP under the Trump Administration.

Seeks to Manipulate Security Vetting Standards:  Section 4(e) directs the departments and agencies involved in vetting refugee applicants, including yours, to furnish information on “the number of staff performing refugee security vetting, the thresholds for checks, and the rates at which checks have returned an objection.”  Section 4(f) further directs them to consider “adjusting the list of countries and other criteria that require a Security Advisory Opinion for a refugee case.”  But the neutral language of these directives is belied by the stated goal: “mak[ing] refugee arrivals more efficient” – i.e., increasing the number of refugees resettled in the United States.  The White House should not be micromanaging the work of security vetting agencies with the aim of reducing the number of applicants who undergo security checks or reducing the type and depth of checks to which they are subject.

Promotes Non-Meritorious Cases and Changes the Character of USRAP:  Sections 4(g) and 4(n) encourage your agencies to take steps to allow refugee applicants to access their USRAP files and to be represented by attorneys at their interviews.  On its face, these are admirable measures to promote fairness.  However, allowing failed USRAP applicants to review their case files will allow them to “improve” their stories upon appeal.  The presence of attorneys at interviews will make it harder for adjudicators to get to the truth and assess a persecution claim.  It also will make the currently non-adversarial interviews into adversarial proceedings.  The net effect of these measures will be to reduce the denial of non-meritorious cases – diverting resources from meritorious cases – and to change USRAP from a discretionary program, as provided in Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to another immigration benefit program.

Promotes Marriage Fraud, Polygamous Marriages, and Human Smuggling:  Section 4(j) encourages your agencies to ignore the Immigration and Nationality Act definition of “spouse” and permit other relationships in USRAP through a work-around.  The Trump Administration tightened the USRAP rules for informal spouses to combat the long-standing problem of sham marriages, including those contracted for money (a form of human smuggling) and those of polygamists seeking to bring multiple wives to the United States as “derivative” cases.  Why does the Biden Administration want to undo that progress and re-open the door to marriage fraud, human trafficking, and polygamy in the USRAP?

Imposes Arbitrary Deadlines for Completing Security Screening and Vetting:  Section 5 directs your departments, among other things, to “address USRAP processing backlogs.”  As in Section 4(e), the neutral language of “improving performance” conceals the intent of this directive, which becomes clear later.  Section 5(b)(ii) refers to “sense of the Congress” language from 2000 that “the processing of an immigration benefit application should be completed not later than 180 days after the initial filing of the application.” 

It should not be necessary to note that the world has changed considerably in the last 20 years.  The Biden Administration should not impose arbitrary deadlines that shorten the screening and vetting process for the increased number of refugees it seeks to resettle in the United States, much less cite 20-year old language as justification for doing so.  There is no such thing as too much screening and vetting for those seeking to enter our country, particularly when the United States government is resettling them here at taxpayer expense.

Seeks to Expand the Traditional and Legal Definition of Refugee:  Section 6 directs your departments, among others, to prepare a report that includes, among other things, “options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly

from climate change” and “mechanisms for identifying such individuals, including through referrals.”  We remind you that so-called “climate refugees” are not included in the definition of “refugee” at Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a definition which is consistent with U.S. obligations under relevant international instruments.  The Biden Administration must not seek to expand this definition through administrative action, nor should it participate in the attempts by certain activist groups to expand the traditional and legal understanding of “refugee.”                                                                             

Even worse, the Biden Administration’s plan to weaken screening and vetting with the aim of resettling more refugees from abroad in American communities ignores the refugee crisis right under its nose.  By this, we mean the backlog of more than 1.1 million asylum-seekers who already are inside the United States and who are awaiting adjudication of their claims.  This lengthy backlog is not going anywhere and is likely to grow as more people from Central America and elsewhere, lured by the recent actions taken by the Biden Administration to roll back the border security and immigration enforcement policies of the Trump Administration, come north to try to their luck.    

This lengthy backlog undermines the integrity of the asylum system.  It delays the grant of asylum to individuals who are legitimately fleeing persecution and have valid claims.  Further, such delays are a pull factor for illegal immigration.  By providing protection from removal, they create an incentive for those without lawful status to enter and remain in the United States.[4]  As a matter of fairness and common sense, the Biden Administration should focus on adjudicating those cases according to our law before redirecting our limited resources to new cases.

Again, we urge you to oppose attempts to weaken screening and vetting for foreign nationals coming to the United States, including refugee applicants in the USRAP and other humanitarian-based U.S. immigration programs and instead build on the enhancements that were implemented by the Trump Administration.  Additionally, we request that you provide us a briefing to discuss the actions that you will take to ensure that those who enter and are resettled in the United States have been properly vetted.  We look forward to speaking with you about our concerns.

Sincerely,

 

[1] Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States, January 20, 2021.

[2] Executive Order 13780, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, March 6, 2017.

[3] Executive Order 14013, Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on migration, February 4, 2021.

[4] Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021, available at:  www.state.gov/reports/report-to-congress-on-proposed-refugee-admissions-for-fy-2021/