Preview: Finding Refuge

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson says “thorough” refugee vetting process has been augmented with social media searches

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says he has added social media and other database checks to bolster scrutiny of thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East, most Syrian civil war refugees, who hope to live in the U.S. Johnson will be featured in a Bill Whitaker report about the refugee vetting process that follows three Syrian families that have been granted asylum in America. His report will be featured on 60 Minutes, Sunday Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

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Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson  

CBS News

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has campaigned on a promise to shut out Syrian refugees, a group ISIS is attempting to infiltrate. Nearly 13,000 Syrian civil war refugees have been allowed into the U.S. since President Obama said America should accept 10,000 over a year ago. But thousands have been turned away, says Johnson, and even more are on hold.  “If we don’t feel we know enough about you-- we’re not going to admit you.”

Johnson said he is confident in the system set up to vet these people. “We have, on my watch, added social media and other checks, consulting additional databases. We’ve added those checks in the face of the worldwide refugee crisis that we see right now,” says Johnson.  “I can tell the American people it is probably the most cumbersome, thorough vetting process by which any immigrant comes into the United States.”

So who does get in? “Mostly we focus on victims of torture, survivors of violence, women-headed households, a lot of severe medical cases,” says Gina Kassem, who works for the U.S. State Department in Jordan on the selection process. The vetting begins with the U.N., before the refugees are examined by specially trained Homeland Security personnel. Asked by Whitaker why she thinks the process is effective, Kassem answers, “Because they undergo so many steps of vetting, so many interviews, so many intelligence screenings, so many checks along the way.”