WASHINGTON – Gov. Mark Dayton received more assurances over the weekend from the Obama administration that Syrian refugees entering the United States next year will go through extremely tight screening measures.

A letter obtained by the Star Tribune from Secretary of State John Kerry and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spells out in detail the thorough and comprehensive vetting — including biometric screening and background checks — planned for the additional Syrian refugees that the United States intends to take next year.

"Our highest priority is the protection of the American people," Kerry and Johnson wrote. "We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure our nation lives up to its humanitarian heritage while keeping the American people safe."

The letter was sent just a day after the Republican-controlled U.S. House — with the help of 42 Democrats, including Reps. Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson — passed a veto-proof measure to tighten restrictions dramatically on refugees entering the United States from Syria and Iraq.

The United States allowed 1,682 Syrians to enter the country this year. The Obama administration, which plans to take in 10,000 next year, emphasized in the letter to Dayton — and other governors — that most of those accepted will be families, children and victims of torture. Obama officials noted a "very small" percentage of refugees will be single men without children or family already living in the United States.

Since 2003, Minnesota has taken in only nine Syrians; on average, the state takes in about 2,000 refugees a year from all over the world.

Dayton didn't respond to the letter over the weekend. He was among 34 governors on a call with senior White House officials last week, after which he said he felt comfortable with the White House's vetting assurances.

Dayton has also said he has no plans to forbid Syrian refugees from entering the state, as have more than 20 governors from across the country.

He noted, however, that protecting Minnesotans was his top priority.

Kerry and Johnson told Dayton in the letter, dated Nov. 20, that there is a five-step screening for every person seeking entry into the U.S. as a refugee. This includes interviews with United Nations and State Department officials, a background check that looks at aliases and whether a person has been flagged on any U.S. intelligence databases, including no-fly lists. There are more screening interviews by customs officials trained to look for inconsistencies, a fingerprint and biometric check, and fraud detection checks.

White House officials say they feel comfortable about the program that has been a fixture of the U.S. government since the 1970s. Of the more than 785,000 refugees admitted in the 14 years since 9/11, only about a dozen have been deported or arrested because of terrorism concerns.

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 130 people, the House passed a measure ahead of the Thanksgiving recess putting additional rules on Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

The measure faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he would not support the measure and said that in the wake of the tragedies in France, the United States could not forget its humanitarian assistance mission.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she is working on a Senate bill that would tighten requirements on the visa waiver program for travelers coming to the United States from Europe.

Staffers said Klobuchar is "committed to the refugee program so long as each refugee goes through a thorough vetting process."

Allison Sherry • 202-383-6120