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Kerry tells Rauner Syrian refugees face extensive screening

Secretary of State John Kerry. Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have sent Gov. Bruce Rauner a letter, providing details of the vetting process for Syrian refugees.

In the letter Friday, written after Rauner called for a temporary halt of Illinois resettlements and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, Kerry and Johnson wrote, “It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees we have accepted and will accept are families, victims of torture and children.”

They said that the refugees are subject to extensive screening — more “than any other type of traveler” to the United States — and are subject to “additional background checks” upon arrival.

Kerry and Johnson wrote to Rauner and other governors after a 90-minute White House briefing call for governors on Tuesday and a House vote on Thursday setting almost impossibly high screening standards for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Rauner did not join the call, though 34 governors did.

Rauner administration spokesman Catherine Kelly told the Sun-Times on Saturday the federal government is declining to tell states basic information such as “who’s coming and when. Background on Syrian refugees should be provided to state governments prior to their resettlement.”

In the letter, Kerry and Johnson said:

• The U.S. priorities for accepting refugees are taking in families, unaccompanied children, torture victims and individuals with family in the this country.

• Every refugee applicant is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases to screen for terrorists. The agencies includethe FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Interpol.

• Applicants between 14 and 79 must submit fingerprints, which are run through watchlist databases.

• All applicants get personal interviews. And U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services refugee officers are given weeks of special training to detect “fraud trends or security issues.”

On Friday, Rauner and 26 other Republican governors signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to “suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees.”