Sparks, Bennett agree screening needed for Syrian refugees

Published 10:04 am Friday, November 20, 2015

Both state leaders representing the Albert Lea area said Thursday they think proper screening procedures are needed before Syrian refugees are accepted into the United States.

“Our heart breaks for these refugees and their families fleeing violence in Syria,” said District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, in a press release. “However, in the wake of recent attacks in Paris, Lebanon and elsewhere, keeping Minnesota families safe must be the No. 1 priority. We must make sure screening procedures will keep out terrorists who wish to hide among innocent refugees.”

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, wrote a letter to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton Monday, urging him to call on President Barack Obama to halt the acceptance of refugees from Syria until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security procedures and clearances.

Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

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Daudt said Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey recently testified that there are gaps in the United States’ refugee screening process.

Dayton said Wednesday in a reply letter that he has been assured by federal government leaders that all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.

Dayton said he has been informed that nine Syrian refugees have settled in Minnesota since 1979, including a family of seven who arrived earlier this year.

Dayton said he doesn’t anticipate an influx of arrivals from Syria.

“As I stated yesterday, I share your belief that we must be vigilant in keeping Minnesotans safe; however, I believe we can do so, while continuing to be a state and a nation that offers immigrants a better future full of hope and opportunity, not fear and prejudice,” Dayton said in his reply.

He said Monday he had no plans to bar Syrian refugees from entering Minnesota.

Bennett said she agreed with Daudt’s letter.

“We’re not saying no refugees; we’re saying because of the terrorist aspects of what is happening in the Middle East, we need to make sure we are properly screening them,” Bennett said.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said reviewing the facts and making sure the public has a chance to weigh in on the process is important.

“We have to proceed very cautiously,” Sparks said. “We need to take a real close look at this to make sure we get it right.”

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

Sparks said he supports a full vetting process for refugees, and he hopes the situation is handled at the federal level.

Obama is looking to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would restrict the immigration of Iraqi and Syrian refugees by requesting extra security measures.

U.S. House Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, said in a press release that he supports the bill.

“I supported this legislation today because I believe it adds important safeguards to ensure additional security,” Walz said. “I believe doing so is critical to the success of any refugee program, and I will continue to fight to ensure we take every possible measure to protect our country.”

More than 30 governors have expressed opposition to Syrian refugees being relocated to their states until adequate safeguards are in place to protect against the Islamic State.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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