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Paul's calls for scrutiny of refugees draws concern, agreement

by Joe Arnold and Associated Press

WHAS11.com

Posted on June 6, 2011 at 12:39 AM

(WHAS11) U.S. Senator Rand Paul's call for more scrutiny of how refugees gain entry into the United States is being met by concern from a Kentucky refugee charity, scorn from a civil liberties professor and agreement from a fellow member of the Kentucky congressional delegation.

Paul called Friday for an explanation from the U.S. State Department and Senate hearings to get answers on how two Iraqi refugees arrested on terrorism-related charges in his hometown of Bowling Green were granted asylum to live in the United States.
  
Waad Ramadan Alwan, 30, and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 23, both of Bowling Green, face charges of plotting to send explosives, guns and missiles to Iraqi insurgents. Neither is charged with plotting to launch attacks inside the United States, and authorities said their weapons and money didn't make it to Iraq.

"You would think you would have to go a long way from Bowling Green to find terrorism or to fight the war on terrorism," Paul said.
  
Alwan had been granted asylum even though federal authorities unknowingly had evidence linking him to a roadside bomb in Iraq.
  
"What I want to know is, how the heck did he get into our country then?" Paul said.

Paul says it raises questions about federal immigration policies and the screening of political refugees.  He's wants to suspend the issuance of student visas to countries with large occurrences of terrorist activity. 

"We have 40,000 students that are coming to our country every year," Paul said, "The original (9/11) hijackers, I think 16 out of 19 were here on student visas.  Were we policing them then?  Are we policing them well now?"

Sam Marcosson, a University of Louisville law professor who specializes in civil liberties, said though it is Paul's responsibility as a member of Congress to scrutinize, Paul has overreacted in this case.

"The question is whether the reaction is one that's responsible and whether or not it's the kind of oversight that the legislaltive branch is responsibly engaged in," Marcosson said.

"When the Senator or any other member of Congress talks about someting like a full moratorium (on student visas) based on one incident involving two people who are over here on a student visa, that seems to me to be a pretty significant overreaction," Marcosson continued.

In a statement, a spokesman for Catholic Charities' Kentucky Office of Refugees and Migration and Refugee Services, said that all resettlement agencies rely on a partnership with the federal government for the screening of refugees who receive resettlement help in the United States.

"The alleged acts of these two men do not characterize the clients we serve," said Bart Weigel, Director of Agency Communications and Development, "They flee their homeland escaping war, torture, and political and religious persecution, not being able to return for a well founded fear of their safety."

Yet, the freshman Republican Senator gained an unlikely ally.  WHAS11 reached Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth (3rd Congressional District), by phone for his reaction to Paul's comments.

"I think that Senator Paul is correct in calling for hearings on whether or not there are gaps in our scrutiny of refugees and students coming into the country," Yarmuth said, "We need to make sure that we take every precaution that's reasonable and effective to make sure that we don't allow people into the country who would do us harm."

Yarmuth, like Paul, voted against the Patriot Act which which gives law enforcement wide latitude to fight terrorism.

Yarmuth believes the exercise of Patriot Act provisions should be accompanied by an independent oversight of those actions.  It is not publicly known what, if any provisions of the Patriot Act were utilized by the FBI to track down the Iraqi men in Bowling Green.

Their arrests, however, bring home the balancing act between security and personal freedoms.

Just last week, Paul held up the Senate vote on renewing the Patriot Act out of concern for gunowners' rights.

"Is our Constitution strong enough that we could actually capture terrorists and protect our liberties at the same time?" Paul said on the Senate floor before the arrests.

Paul's question was put to the test with the terrorism arrests.

"Was someone asleep at the switch here?" Paul asked, "Did someone approve this guy for political asylum even though he had been in prison as an insurgent?  How does that happen?  And, is it happening because we're spending time searching millions of innocent Americans and wasting time on that and not doing a thorough job on those who are coming from these middle eastern countries?"

"That's an easy thing to say," Marcosson countered, "and on the surface it might sound good.  But the question is how do we know who those people are?  The criteria that we're going to use are always going to be the ones that allow you to say, 'this is somebody else.'  Somebody else that doesn't look like you, somebody else that doesn't sound like you, is the one who's likely to be the terrorist and it's going to be those measures that don't affect you individually or someone like you that's going to be targeted by those."

"I want targeted action against terrorism," Paul stated, "I don't want universal action against the U.S. citizen."

Catholic Charities said that Paul is also confusing refugees with political asylees, the latter status granted once an individual is already inside the United States.
 


BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Rand Paul called Friday for Senate hearings to get answers on how two Iraqi refugees arrested on terrorism-related charges in his hometown were granted asylum to live in the United States.
   
Waad Ramadan Alwan, 30, and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 23, both of Bowling Green, face charges of plotting to send explosives, guns and missiles to Iraqi insurgents. Neither is charged with plotting to launch attacks inside the United States, and authorities said their weapons and money didn't make it to Iraq.
   
Alwan had been granted asylum even though federal authorities unknowingly had evidence linking him to a roadside bomb in Iraq.
   
"How did they get here? Who approved it?" Paul asked during a press conference at his Senate office in the southern Kentucky city. "Was someone asleep at the switch here?"
   
Paul, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said the arrests raise important questions, including why 18,016 Iraqis were granted political asylum in the United States last year.
   
"How do you get political asylum from a friendly government?" he asked.
   
Court documents allege that Alwan spent nearly two years in the U.S. plotting to help al-Qaida attack American soldiers in Iraq, even though federal authorities unknowingly had evidence that already linked him to a roadside bomb in his home country 2005.
   
National security experts said the 21-month lapse in linking fingerprints from the bomb to the suspect showed poor communication among the several federal agencies in charge of anti-terrorism efforts.
   
Alwan's fingerprints had been lifted from a bomb found in September 2005 near Bayji, Iraq. Before he entered the U.S. as a refugee in April 2009, he had to provide a set of fingerprints for a security check. A statement from the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that gaps prevented authorities from connecting the refugee fingerprints to the bomb until January 2011.
   
"What I want to know is how the heck did he get into our country," Paul said.
   
Alwan is charged with conspiracy to kill a United States national, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Hammadi is charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists and knowingly transferring, possessing, or exporting a device designed or intended to launch or guide a rocket or missile.
   
The men pleaded not guilty to the charges Tuesday and are in federal custody pending a detention hearing.
 
 Alwan and Hammadi entered the United States four months apart in 2009. The FBI and federal prosecutors have not said how the two men were granted refugee status and wouldn't address why Alwan's fingerprints weren't matched sooner to those taken off the IED.
   
Those are questions Paul said he intends to ask the State Department in a letter on Friday.
   
An opponent of the Patriot Act, Paul said the arrests do not change his position. In fact, he said, they raise new questions about whether homeland security is spending too much time investigating American citizens.
 
 "Is it happening because we're spending time searching millions of innocent Americans and wasting time on that," he said, "and not doing a thorough job on those who are coming from these Middle Eastern countries who I think need to be thoroughly vetted before they enter our country."
   
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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