SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — As federal authorities in Sacramento prepare to extradite Omar Ameen to his home country of Iraq, many are wondering how he was approved for refugee status in the first place?
The answer to that question remains unclear.
Investigators say Ameen left Iraq and fled to Turkey in 2012 where he applied for refugee status. That was granted in June 2014, when prosecutors say he helped carry out an ISIS attack in Rawah that left an Iraqi police officer dead.
CBS13 spoke to the three main refugee assistance groups in Sacramento, to ask about their vetting process, but they all declined to be officially interviewed for our story.
The programs help settle hundreds of refugees here each year. Many are from war-torn countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
But Ameen’s arrested is shining a new light on the already controversial issue of refugees. FBI agents arrested 45-year old Omar Ameen in a raid Wednesday. He’s accused of taking part in an ISIS murder of a police officer in Rawah.
Federal prosecutors say he settled in Sacramento as an Iraqi refugee until court documents revealed his home-country wanted him back on murder charges.
Prosecutors say Ameen painted himself a victim of violence, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted him refugee status.
Federal immigration agents haven’t yet responded to our request for comment on this story. But terrorism analysts are on the case.
“The case appears to be a major failure of the vetting process,” said David Sterman, a senior policy analyst with the New America Foundation.
The foundation tracks the number of terrorism-related refugees or asylum seekers charged in the U.S. It’s counted 19 in the U.S., since Sept. 11, 2001, or nearly 17 years.
That includes the Iraqi refugee arrested in Sacramento two years ago, accused of traveling to Syria to fight with terrorists.
“This is a relatively serious case given the connections to an actual organization abroad and requires a review of the various processes that this person underwent,” he said.
Ameen was approved through a system that has been a flashpoint for President Donald Trump. He has sought a temporary ban on international refugees.
So how are refugees screened and approved?
The Council on Foreign Relations says the process is thorough:
- U.Nofficials are in charge of the first step: screening, though they don’t say what they’re looking for.
- U.S> State Department officials then conduct interviews and background checks
- Qualifying applicants with no criminal history or ties to terror-groups are then cleared to enter the U.S.
“The answer to issues like this is not shut down the refugee program. It’s to review what happened, see if policy reforms that can be made,” said Sterman.
As for Ameen, he will be back in federal court on Monday. He was appointed two public defenders who say they had less than 10 minutes of access to their client before his hearing on Wednesday.
They haven’t yet returned our calls for this story.