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FL House Speaker Suspects Refugee Terrorists But Recent Attacks Were By U.S. Citizens

House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
Florida House of Representatives
Florida House of Representatives

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran recently told a Miami television show there’s a “tremendous potential likelihood” some refugees from the Middle East living in Florida are terrorists.

"You believe there are actual terrorists among those 12-hundred who are intent on doing some harm at some point to the citizens in Florida,” asked Jim Defede of "CBS Miami's Facing South Florida with Jim Defede."

"It’s an absolute fact that ISIS has infiltrated the refugee program," Corcoran said.

The speaker's refugee statements is raising some eyebrows in the Capitol. His remarks come ahead of a Thursday vote on legislation pulling Florida out of the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Twelve-hundred Muslim refugees were resettled in Florida last year. That’s about 3 percent of the Muslim refugees the U.S. took in 2016. Corcoran is supportive of President Donald Trump’s embattled immigration order barring refugees from certain countries and he’s backing up his claim by pointing to recent comments by Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Mark Glass. Here's Corcoran again on Defede's show.

“I believe that there is tremendous potential likelihood there and it’s based on facts," Corcoran said. "We had a whole committee, three hours long, Jim, and we had FDLE, our own law enforcement arm come and this is what they told us, and we’ve read it all the time with Comey and the FBI. They don’t know, they can’t property vet these people. But what we do know is this – the is our FDLE guy- the federal people wouldn’t let us check their database and cross check it. The feds never even looked at our database to see if they are really related to some people in our area.”

Glass did brief Florida House lawmakers last month on a 2015 Homeland Security report that quotes high-ranking U-S officials questioning the country’s refugee vetting process.

“The National Counterterrorism Center has identified individuals with ties to the terrorist groups in Syria attempted to gain access to the U.S. through the U.S. refugee program," Glass said. "FBI Director James Comey has stated there is a risk associated with bringing in anybody from the outside, but especially from a conflict zone like Syria.”

But Glass also said of the 16 people arrested in Florida over the past five years for alleged terrorist activity, none were refugees.

More recently the NSC director testified that homegrown violent extremists like the Pulse Night Club shooter in Orlando and last month’s Fort Lauderdale airport shooter are a much bigger problem. Both were U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Pro Temp Bobby DuBose said Corcoran has yet to respond to his Monday letter with facts to why he thinks Florida’s refugees pose a larger danger.

“I just felt that you know our citizens need to have that information," he said. "And if it’s something in regards to policy that we’re going to make a decision that’s going to impact the folks that live here in Florida, I think we have the right to have you know all the information available.”

Debate over accepting refugees spiked in 2015 after terrorist attacks in Europe. A spokesman for Corcoran also cited articles in Newsweek Magazine and The New York Times. The Newsweek article is an opinion piece from April of last year by a fellow from a conservative think tank. The New York Times article discussed refugee security concerns in Germany.

The U.S. State Department website details the vetting process, including background checks, biometric scans and interviews that take between 18 months and 24 months.

Approving the Florida bill pulling Florida out the U.S. refugee program would be mainly symbolic. Federal aid flows through the state to local resettlement agencies. If Florida does leave the program, the money would go directly to the agencies.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.