Finding Refuge in the Heartland — The Vetting Process

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) — The vetting process — it is a phrase commonly heard during discussions regarding refugee placement in the United States.

Proponents of refugee resettlement will often argue the vetting process is more than sufficient, while opponents ask for a more thorough, leak-proof system.

One hometown politician understands the topic is complex, but is asking for more control of the vetting process at the state level.

“If we don't know who's coming here, it really opens us up for opportunities for a terrorist to come through,” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said, speaking on a push he made during the Obama administration to give states more control over the vetting process. “So frankly, the state government is not involved in that process, so we were asking the Obama Administration to give us more information, make us more apart of the process and while we got a little bit more information, we frankly were getting stonewalled.”

Ricketts went on to explain that Nebraska has always been a “welcoming state,” for refugees, but added that “we also have to make sure we're keeping our people safe, which is why we were asking questions about the process for vetting refugees who were coming to our country.”

Gov. Ricketts' statements bring up a commonly asked question — what exactly does the process for vetting a refugee coming to a Nebraska look like?

The answer is multi-faceted, lengthy, and features at least 13 steps, beginning with registration and ending with acceptance into the United States.

To read the entire step-by-step process, supplied by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, click here.

For starters, refugees being relocated in Nebraska must meet a number of requirements before becoming eligible to be placed in the Heartland.

“They have to be interviewed multiple times, by FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice,” Program Development Officer at Lutheran Family Services, Lacey Studnicka, said. “They have biometics, they have iris scans, finger printing, medical checks. If there is any discrepancy, they are not allowed in the country.”

According to Studnicka, once an individual clears the necessary hurdles and is settled by Lutheran Family Services, $2,000 becomes available to them.

She said that roughly $900 of that flows into the agency who placed the individual, while the rest belongs to the refugee for rent, furniture, and other necessities.

However, for non-profit agencies, such as Lutheran Family Services, to get access to those funds, a number of requirements must be met.

According to the U.S. Department of State, placement organizations must provide assistance in applying for social security cards, enrollment in employment services, accessing health screenings, plus a number of others.

To read all of the requirements, click here.

During the introduction of LB 505 at the Nebraska Legislature on March 2, many proponents of the bill argued that health examinations of refugees were falling through the cracks, and in turn pose a threat to schools and other public entities. Multiple residents who spoke specifically talked about the fear of tuberculosis.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 25 of the reported 33 high-risk tuberculosis cases in Nebraska in 2015 were found in foreign-born individuals.

The DHHS also cited the country of origin of those individuals. Six cases were found in individuals from Burma, three from Mexico and Vietnam, two from Guatemala and Togo, and one each from Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Gambia, Ghana, Honduras, Kenya, Norway, and Somalia.

To read the full report, click here.

Another talking point regarding the vetting process deals with security.

Sen. Tom Brewer, who represents District 43 and proposed LB 505 in the Legislature, stated that he hasn’t heard of any security risks regarding refugees in Nebraska, but is still concerned about the vetting process from one Middle Eastern area.

“I know we worry about vetting and especially from Syria. That's a valid issue because when you have a failed country, you know Afghanistan and Iraq we have police forces there, we have armies, we screen these people,” Sen. Brewer said. “We know where they live, we can determine whether it's safe to bring them here. We can't do that in Syria, and you need to be sure you're not putting Nebraskans at risk by the decisions that are being made. “

From 2013-2017, 190 Syrian refugees were resettled in Nebraska.

As for the number of crimes committed by refugees placed in Nebraska, the numbers are either not tracked, or are too low to register.

1011 News reached out to the Lincoln Police Department, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska Crime Commission, and the Nebraska Supreme Court, none of which tracked the inquired data.

This is Part Two of a five part series titled “Finding Refuge in the Heartland.” Part Three will air on March 7, and the series will continue through March 9.