Shaheen Urges DHS to Share Processing Best Practices With European Partners to Help Address Refugee Crisis

**Recommendation follows fact-finding trips to Europe and U.S. Southwest border**

October 23, 2015

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the lead Democrat on both the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs and the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, wrote to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson urging the department to share best-practices for processing migrants developed on the U.S. Southwest border, with European allies struggling with the surge of Syrian refugees. Shaheen’s recommendations follow the trip she led earlier this month to Europe where she was briefed on the Syrian refugee crisis, and a trip earlier this year to the U.S. border with Mexico where she was briefed by DHS officials on the surge of Central American migrants.

“The burden on these nations, their local communities and their infrastructure, is staggering, and that is why I am requesting you work to identify ways in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can assist your counterparts in European nations bearing the weight of the refugee crisis, fully recognizing that there may be constraints to U.S. involvement,” Shaheen writes. “…I know that DHS has developed proven techniques for receiving and processing large numbers of individuals. DHS officials from across the agency who dealt with the Southwest border surge have a tremendous level of expertise in matters such as verifying an individual’s identity, registering family units together, and providing basic health screenings.  These best practices could be shared with front-line nations in Europe struggling to handle thousands and thousands of arriving refugees each day.”

Shaheen led a Senate Delegation earlier this month to Europe that included visits to Greece and Germany to receive a series of in-country briefings on the Syrian refugee crisis. In both countries, the senators had the opportunity to visit reception centers where newly-arrived refugees are processed and provided basic services. While on the island of Lesvos, Greece, the delegation got to see one of the main entry points for Syrian refugees into Europe and were provided one of several opportunities to meet with refugees to hear their first-hand experiences of their difficult journeys and entry into Europe.

Earlier this year, Senator Shaheen and Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee respectively, visited Texas to observe border security and immigration enforcement efforts along the Southwest border. Senators Shaheen and Hoeven were able to see firsthand the methods used by U.S. Border Patrol to process incoming migrants from Central America.

The full text of Senator Shaheen’s letter is available below.

October 23, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson

Secretary

Department of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Ave NW

Washington, DC 20016

Dear Secretary Johnson:

As the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, I recently led a Congressional delegation to Europe to learn more about how the European Union (EU) and its member states are dealing with the migration crisis. 

Nearly a quarter million Syrians have been killed during the current conflict, an estimated eight million Syrians have been displaced internally, and another four million have left the country.  Refugees are fleeing hunger, unspeakable violence, and a land that no longer offers any hope for their children.  They have endured barrel bombs, chemical attacks, indiscriminate shelling, the barbarity of ISIS, and, now, a military offensive sponsored by Russia and Iran.

To reach Europe, refugees have been preyed upon by traffickers and smugglers – some selling refugee children for sex, for slavery, or for organs.  They have risked drowning at sea and suffocation in locked vans, and they will soon confront the freezing temperatures and snows of winter. 

In Greece, our Congressional delegation visited Lesvos, an island of 80,000 people in the Aegean Sea that is popular with tourists.  Lesvos is now dealing with 3,000-4,000 migrants from Turkey arriving on its shores every day, and working with the Greek government, the island is providing facilities for receiving, processing, and housing refugees. 

In Greece and Germany, we held in-depth discussions with government officials responsible for border security, intelligence gathering, and refugee resettlement activities.  We visited with non-profit organizations helping the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have made their way to Europe. 

The burden on these nations, their local communities and their infrastructure, is staggering, and that is why I am requesting you work to identify ways in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can assist your counterparts in European nations bearing the weight of the refugee crisis, fully recognizing that there may be constraints to U.S. involvement. 

Having visited the Southwest U.S. border earlier this year to examine how our nation was dealing with an influx of migrants from Central America, I know that DHS has developed proven techniques for receiving and processing large numbers of individuals.  DHS officials from across the agency who dealt with the Southwest border surge have a tremendous level of expertise in matters such as verifying an individual’s identity, registering family units together, and providing basic health screenings.  These best practices could be shared with front-line nations in Europe struggling to handle thousands and thousands of arriving refugees each day. 

Providing key technical assistance could cut down on the time it takes for a refugee to be processed and transferred from so-called “hot spot” areas, reducing the burden on local communities like Lesvos and easing the path for weary migrants.

Similarly, DHS could engage with officials in nations like Germany, where a majority of refugees are seeking to resettle, to share knowledge on efficient ways to screen and register refugees, and to identify and root out criminal smuggling operations.  I understand that there are some personnel from Customs and Border Protection in Germany now, but I believe that additional assistance from DHS officials would be welcomed by nations throughout Europe. 

While no lasting solution to the migration crisis is possible without dealing with the root problem of violence and conflict in Syria, in the interim, the United States should be doing more to partner with our allies in Europe to address the crisis.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen

United States Senator