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Keeping Nebraska Safe

By Governor Pete Ricketts

November 23, 2015

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Nebraska has been a welcoming place to people from around the world for years, and my administration is committed to continuing to make our state a great place to live, work, and raise a family.  In light of the events in Paris, it is critical, however, that the Obama administration consider the safety of Americans first before moving forward with plans to resettle Syrian refugees.  Over the past couple years, ISIS has grown rapidly and extended their influence throughout Syria and Iraq.  Along the way, their members have terrorized communities, beheaded Christians, and displaced thousands from their homes.  Now, the events of Paris demonstrate that ISIS has been successful in recruiting or dispatching members of their organization outside the Middle East.

Following the attacks in Paris, a bipartisan group of governors, lawmakers, and law enforcement leaders have raised security concerns.  News that at least one of the suicide bombers in Paris was a Syrian, who traveled to France via Greece, has highlighted the necessity of taking every precaution to ensure that refugees originating from Syria do not have ties to ISIS or other terrorist organizations.  The rationale for such a review was confirmed by President Obama’s CIA Director who declared that the United States needs to "see what we can do to strengthen that system that allows us to have as best insight as possible into the backgrounds of these individuals..." The CIA Director’s comments come on the heels of recent congressional testimony from FBI Director James Comey who revealed that background checks can be difficult for refugees originating from Syria because intelligence databases do not have the same quality of information available from Syria as it does from other regions.

These concerns among others compelled me to request that refugee resettlement agencies in Nebraska refrain from pursuing plans to resettle Syrian refugees in our state until these security concerns have been addressed.  My request is not about keeping Syrian refugees out of Nebraska, but rather ensuring that we keep potential terrorists out of our state and our country.  The sentiment of my request to these agencies has been echoed by a bipartisan group of governors across the nation.  Twenty-six of these governors joined me in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to suspend efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States until steps had been taken to affirm the integrity of our security screening process for refugee resettlement.

Congress is also taking action.  In recent days, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including all three Nebraska congressmen, voted to pass the American Security Against Foreign Refugees (SAFE) Act.  This legislation sought to expand the screening process for refugees, and would require the FBI director and Homeland Security Director to sign off on the relocation of refugees from Iraq and Syria.  Even though the Senate has yet to vote on it, this legislation’s future remains uncertain because President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

In addition to these safeguards, it is also important for states to have involvement in the resettlement process.  Right now, the State of Nebraska’s role in the refugee resettlement process is limited to commenting on proposals submitted by resettlement agencies to their national organizations.  Under the current system, the State of Nebraska does not even receive notification when refugees are resettled in our state.  On a conference call with 33 other governors last week, I urged Obama administration leadership to look for ways to involve states in resettlement, so that states can have confidence in the reliability of the resettlement process.

Swift action by the President to address these concerns can allow the United States to provide relief to refugees that truly need our country’s help.  Nebraskans feel a duty to help those who have been tortured, persecuted, and displaced.  We must, however, strengthen the integrity of the security screening process before proceeding with resettlement to ensure that Nebraska remains a safe place to live, work, and raise a family for generations to come.  As this issue continues to develop, you are welcome to share your thoughts with my office by emailing pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or by calling 402-471-2244.