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Kerry and Johnson tell Fallin: Screening process works

WASHINGTON _ Top administration officials are hoping to convince Gov. Mary Fallin to drop her opposition to accepting more Syrian refugees, telling her the screening process is "extremely thorough and comprehensive."

In a letter obtained by The Oklahoman, Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Fallin, "We have tremendous faith in this system's ability to detect, investigate and disrupt terrorist plotting in this country, as it has done repeatedly.

"With these measure in place, we believe that we are able to both protect the American people and maintain this Nation's long standing position as the world's beacon of hope and freedom."

Fallin was among about 30 governors, mostly Republicans, who called for a pause in admitting refugees from the civil war in Syria.

“The Obama administration needs to assure the public that the background checks they are doing are rigorous, and that American lives will not be endangered in the process,” she said Monday.

“Until then, I call on the Obama administration to suspend any Syrian refugees into the United States. During these uncertain times, the Obama administration needs to make sure those entering the United States are not terrorists.”

Fallin said the Catholic Charities offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa place refugees in the state and that she has confidence in them.

She said three Syrian refugees had been placed in the state since 2012, all in Jenks.

In their five-page letter, Kerry and Johnson sought to give Fallin the assurance she requested.

The secretaries detailed the process used to screen refugees, saying it involves numerous U.S. and international agencies and the gathering of biographic and biometric information.

"Bottom line _ under the current system, if there is doubt about whether an applicant would pose a security risk, that individual will not be admitted to the United States as a refugee," the secretaries wrote.

They said Canada has pledged to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, and that France, even after the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people last week, still planned to accept refugees.

The United States accepted 1,682 refugees in the last fiscal year and plans to accept 10,000 in the current fiscal year, which ends next September.

"This represents a modest commitment by our Government to accept less than one percent of the approximately four million Syrian refugees in the world,'' they wrote.

The U.S. House on Thursday voted overwhelmingly for much tougher screening procedures for refugees from Syria and Iraq.  The White House has threatened a veto.

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›