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Refugees Travel Rigorous Route To Make It To U.S., Bridgeport Expert Says

International Institute of Connecticut in Bridgeport.
International Institute of Connecticut in Bridgeport. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — If radical terrorists wanted to sneak into the United States, there are much easier ways to do so than by posing as Syrian refugees, according to Claudia Connor, president of the International Institute of Connecticut.

“The process typically takes 18 to 24 months, and it can last much longer than that. It’s an incredibly rigorous vetting process,” said the leader of the Bridgeport-based institute. “It’s one of the hardest ways to get into the United States.”

After the terror attacks in Paris last week, several U.S. governors have said they will refuse to take in refugees who have fled Syria in recent years, fearing extremists might be among them. By contrast, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy on Wednesday welcomed a Syrian family of three to the state after they were turned away in Indiana. Forty-two Syrian refugees have resettled in Connecticut in about the past year.

Connecticut has three organizations for refugee resettlement — Bridgeport’s International Institute, Hartford-based Catholic Charities and Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven.

The International Institute worked with 97 refugees in fiscal year 2015 and plans to serve 115 in fiscal year 2016. The Bridgeport agency has not resettled any Syrian immigrants. It works mostly with people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and Colombia.

“Syria is front and center now, but there are hundreds of thousands of people coming from other areas,” Connor said.

The vetting process involves a “vigorous” medical check and multiple levels of security checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and other agencies, she said.

Once refugees clear those hurdles and finish interviews with the State Department, they are put on a list for resettlement. That generally takes three months, said Connor, who said student and work visas are much easier to attain.

Refugees remain in camps outside the U.S. during the entire process.

Once here, the main goals include finding a safe home and work for all those able, she said.

“One of the goals of the program is to reunite family members,” she said. “Sometimes they’ve been apart for years.”

Connor said those who are fearful of terrorists posing as refugees should realize that moving through Europe is much easier than coming to the U.S.

“Europe has very porous borders,” she said. “Anyone who’s traveled there knows how easy it can be.”

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