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Hearing Hearing Date: December 17, 2015 9:00 am 2154 Rayburn HOB

Terrorist Travel: Vetting for National Security Concerns

Terrorist Travel: Vetting for National Security Concerns
December 17, 2015
9:00 am
2154 Rayburn HOB


  • The Obama administration claims to have “very extensive screening procedures” in place, even though the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rejected a plan to review the social media accounts of visa applicants. Current plans to review social media remain in the “pilot” phase.
  • For years, terrorists have used social media to promote their mission, recruit other terrorists, and plan attacks. DHS’ vetting process must evolve to stay one step ahead of those who pose a risk to national security.
  • In FY 2013 and FY 2014, DHS has apprehended and released more than 66,000 criminal aliens back into the United States.
  • Since 1996, Congress has required that an exit system be put in place to determine visa overstays. The biometric exit system has yet to be put in place, and DHS has failed to issue a mandated report to Congress on the number of overstays who remain in the U.S. in violation of the law.
  • DHS and State Department officials were unable to report the number of immigrants who had their visas revoked but still remain in the United States.


  • To review the screening process for foreign nationals entering the United States, including the ability to review social media as part of the vetting process.
  • To assess the likelihood of foreign nationals exploiting the U.S. immigration system and examine vulnerabilities within that system.
  • This hearing is a follow-up to an Oversight Subcommittee hearing last week, where a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official was unable to answer basic questions on the Agency’s ability to vet, track, and screen individuals who arrive in the United States.


  • Foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S. must ordinarily obtain either an immigrant visa or a nonimmigrant visa. A third category of foreign nationals seeking entry into the U.S. are refugees, who enter under refugee status.
  • An exception to the rule is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), where an individual who seeks entry to the U.S. must apply for, and receive, a visa before entering the country. Currently, nationals of 38 countries can enter the U.S. without first obtaining a visa under the VWP.
  • Under current law, two departments—the Department of State and DHS—play roles in administering the law and policies on immigration visas.
  • In light of the attacks in San Bernardino, CA, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Subcommittee Chairman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) sent a letter to DHS seeking information relating Tashfeen Malik’s entry into the U.S. on a fiancée visa.


Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT): “(If) you’re here illegally (and) you commit a crime — you deport them. [G]et rid of them. … They are a threat to public safety, they are a threat for terrorism, and they should not be released back into the public.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC): “I just listened to Ben Rhodes give a series of words, like: extensive, thorough, careful; I have heard tough, I have heard multiple all in connection with the word vetting. It’s all amplified the word vetting. And I just sat here and thought: well if all of that was true, how did we miss the lady in San Bernardino?”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC): “Do you know the number of people that leave the United States each and every year? You’re under sworn testimony, yes or no?”
Mr. Bersin: “We can give you a large proportion of those but not all. No. So, we don’t know.”

Witnesses and testimonies: The Honorable Anne C. Richards

Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
U.S. Department of State


The Honorable Michele Thoren Bond

Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs
U.S. Department of State


The Honorable Alan Bersin

Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, Chief Officer for the Office of Policy
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The Honorable Leon Rodriguez

Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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