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Newsday: Rep. Kathleen Rice presses for review of immigrant vetting procedures

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Washington, March 7, 2017 | comments

By Tom Brune

WASHINGTON — Rep. Kathleen Rice on Tuesday asked whether President Donald Trump’s administration has begun its review of how refugees and citizens of Muslim-majority nations are vetted, the issue that led Trump to impose a temporary travel ban on Jan. 27.

Rice (D-Garden City), a House Homeland Security Committee member, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asking for an update on what the administration has accomplished in the 39 days since the president ordered that and other reviews.

“If what the president says is true, that this travel restriction is all about national security, then show us the analysis that has been done on all those underlying requests that were a part of the original travel ban,” Rice said in an interview.

“If this really is about national security and keeping our country safe, and not about keeping a campaign promise, prove it,” Rice said.

In December 2015, during the presidential campaign, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Since last July, he has said the ban would be by “territory instead of Muslim.”

When the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Feb. 3 put a hold on the Jan. 27 order’s suspensions of U.S. entry by refugees and citizens of seven majority Muslim-countries, it allowed the rest of the executive order’s measures to continue.

Among them were a review of the vetting process; creation of a uniform screening standard for all immigration programs; examination of whether states and localities could veto refugee placements in their jurisdictions; and a reporting system for foreign nationals’ engagement in terrorist-related activities in the United States.

The original order required a report on the vetting process review by Feb. 26, the screening standard initial report by March 28, and the reporting system within six months.

But the White House, the Homeland Security Department, State Department and FBI all have declined to respond to queries about whether they have begun any reviews or whether the entire order was put on hold during the court fight and rewrite of the executive order.

The revised executive order that Trump issued Monday extends the deadlines for the Homeland Security Department, State Department and the director of National Intelligence to complete their required tasks beyond the new order’s March 16 effective date.

On Monday, Kelly said DHS and the State Department “immediately undertook a review ... to identify additional measures that would strengthen our vetting of those seeking entry to the United States from seven named countries.” But, he added, “These early efforts were concentrated on Iraq.”

Though overshadowed by the travel ban, Rice said the reviews and analysis “have really serious consequences.”

The vetting review, for example, requires that agencies submit a list of countries that do not provide adequate information for screening. That could prompt the addition of other countries to the travel ban, Rice said.
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