WASHINGTON — House Republicans pressed Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday over the Obama administration's plan to allow thousands more Syrian war refugees into the country following last week's attacks in Paris.
Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee that protecting the U.S. from the threat of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups is the Justice Department's top priority, adding that more than 70 people have been charged in the last two years for alleged conduct related to foreign-fighter activity and homegrown violent extremism.
Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asked Lynch about the risk of terrorists posing as refugees. The body of one suicide bomber in Paris was found with a Syrian passport, and prosecutors say his fingerprints match those of someone who passed through Greece in October. But Germany's top security official said the passport might have been a fake intended to stoke fears about refugees.
Lynch said the screening process for those considered for immigration to the United States is more stringent, relying on extensive interviews, biometric screening and the combined intelligence assets of several federal agencies.
"Certainly, there are challenges to that process because of the situation in Syria," Lynch said. "But I would note, however, that we do have the benefit of having that significant and robust screening process in place, a process that Europe has not been able to set up, which renders them more vulnerable."
The U.S. has admitted only about 2,500 Syrians since the civil war erupted in that country in the spring of 2011, a tiny fraction of the millions who have sought refuge in neighboring countries and Europe.
The Obama administration has set the goal of admitting 10,000 more in the coming year, a decision announced after a photograph of a dead little Syrian boy who had washed up on a Turkish beach in September sparked worldwide calls for compassion.
In the wake of Friday's attacks in Paris, more than two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have called for Syrian refugees to be barred from their U.S. states. GOP congressional leaders have also called for a "pause" in the numbers of Syrians admitted to the county.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said in many cases information on which to base a decision to admit an asylum-seeker emerging from a chaotic war zone would be limited.
"You can do everything right, and you can still have people come into the country who mean to do us harm," DeSantis said.