State Department, terrorism expert respond to domestic fears of refugees

State department, counter-terror experts say little to fear about Syrian refugees

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In the days after the massacres in Paris, fears of potential terrorists on U.S. soil have turned towards Syrian refugees seeking to relocate from their war torn country.

In the wake of Parisian attacks, Governor Bobby Jindal sent a letter to the White House demanding information about any Syrian immigrants in Louisiana and asking the President to "pause" the process.

"Authorities need to investigate what happened in Europe before this problem comes to the United States," said Jindal.

Jindal's concerns were later echoed by both gubernatorial candidates David Vitter and John Bel Edwards.

Jindal's letter came after several blogs reported that 10,000 Syrian refugees made their way through New Orleans and into Louisiana this year. Several of these stories falsely cited a story our sister station in New Orleans FOX 8 WVUE reported on weeks earlier. That story spotlighted humanitarian agencies working to help Syrians flee a country in the midst of civil war, while also speaking with security experts to better understand any possible danger involved.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would work to accept 10,000 refugees in the 2016 fiscal year.  However, the U.S. State Department said not all of the refugees would be located in Louisiana.

The State Department says only 14 refugees have been settled in Louisiana this year including seven in Kenner, six in New Orleans and one in Baton Rouge.

According to the State Department, the 10,000 refugees will be chosen from among 18,000 cases currently under review and referred to the U.S. from the United Nations.  Placement is done through a coordinated effort with local and state officials throughout the country.

Former New Orleans FBI Chief, and terrorism expert Jim Bernazzani also says placing fears from the attack on Paris on refugees is unjustified.

Bernazzani says the Parisian attacks represent the larger terrorist threat, one that is not so easily defined by one country or culture. 
"To use this thing as a political tool is, to be basically blunt, is wrong," said Bernazzani.

The State Department says refugees must go through an extensive process to gain access the country, including high level security and medical screening.  In all the referral and approval procedures can take up to two years.

"Syrian refugees are frequently fleeing the scourge of terrorism.  Refugees are also subject to the highest level of security screening of any individuals who enter the United States," said a State Department spokesperson.

As far as fears that a terrorist could slip in with these immigrants, Bernazzani admits it could be a tempting plan for ISIS leaders.  However, he says it's a risk officials are watching for on all levels.

"The FBI is on top of this thing. Irrespective of what happened in Paris, ISIL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it has been on the target list of the FBI and we're on top of it," Bernazzani.

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