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Pence: White House Refugee Letter Doesn't Change My Opinion

Claire McInerny
StateImpact Indiana

Governor Pence says a White House letter seeking to reassure governors about the Syrian refugee program isn't enough to satisfy his concerns.

Pence says he appreciates the outreach from chief of staff Denis McDonough promising breakdowns of refugees by age, gender and nationality.

But he says what's really needed is FBI and Homeland Security involvement to be certain the U.S. isn't admitting terrorists. He notes FBI director James Comey has said the U.S. can't make that guarantee now.

“I appreciate the communication. I appreciate the call for greater transparency on the program, but that’s really not the issue,” Pence says. “The issue is that the director of the FBI said that there’s significant gaps in our ability to determine the identity of people coming into this country as Syrian refugees.”

Pence says the FBI and other national security agencies should be taking the lead in reviewing and tightening the vetting process.

“I hope we get very quickly to working the problem on a bipartisan basis and get away from who has the authority and can this happen – all of that is secondary to the safety and security of the people in this state,” Pence says.

Pence says the government should suspend the program until it can be sure -- he says it's possible a slight change in criteria for admission would be all that's needed.

Pence says there's Obama Administration precedent to pause the program. He cites an ABC report that the administration suspended resettlement of Iraqi refugees for six months in 2009, after two refugees in Kentucky were found to have ties to al Qaeda.

Pence says Syria was a hotbed of terrorism even before the country's civil war and the rise of ISIS. He says the difficulty of getting good information from within Syria means even the current 18-to-36 month refugee vetting process needs to be reviewed.

31 governors have suspended resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.

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