The Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Screening Coordination in the Department of Homeland Security had one job Thursday: answer questions about the review of Syrian refugees.
She couldn’t do it.
“I would like to see if you could give us some numbers, so that the committee and the American people have this information,” Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, co-chairman of a joint subcommittee hearing on “Terrorism and the Visa Waiver Program,” told senior DHS employee Kelli Ann Burriesci yesterday.
In a 5 minute exchange posted to YouTube, he questioned: “How many Syrian refugees have entered the United States in the last year?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring any of the refugee numbers with me, because I was prepared to talk about visa waiver, but I can certainly have us send that to you,” she replied.
“Do you know how many Americans have traveled to Syria in the last year?” Jordan pressed.
“I don’t have that number on me either,” Burriesci said.
Jordan: “So don’t know how many Americans have traveled and then returned?”
“I don’t have that number on me,” she said.
“How many visa program overstays are there currently in the United States?” Jordan asked.
Burriesci: “Sorry, I didn’t bring that number with me.”
The exchange clearly frustrated lawmakers.
Jordan: “Ms. Burriesci, when I look at the witness list, you have the longest title: Deputy Assistant Secretary Screening Coordination Office of Policy Department of Homeland Security. … It says screening coordination, now what screening are you coordinating? Is that inter agency or intra agency?”
Burriesci: “It’s both.”
“And the two biggest issues we’re dealing with right now, we had these terrible tragedies, these terrible terrorist attacks, and we’re talking about the refugee issue and the visa waiver program issue, and you can’t give us any numbers on either program?” Jordan questioned.
Burriesci: “So I came prepared to talk about the visa waiver program …”
Jordan cut her off there: “I just asked you how many visa program overstays are there and you said I don’t know.”
Burriesci: “Sir, I don’t have a number.”
“So when I ask you how many overstays of the visa waiver program may have traveled to Syria before they got here, do you know that number?” Jordan continued.
The question prompted Burriesci to attempt to steer the conversation into the details of the program, but Jordan wasn’t having it.
“Do we know if that person who’s here today, maybe not even on an overstay, do we know if that person has been to Syria before they came to the United States? Do we know that?” he questioned.
“ … I don’t know …,” Burriesci replied.
After a brief exchange, a frustrated Jordan tried to coax other information.
“How many American citizens are on the no-fly list right now? Can you give me that number?” he asked.
“I know there are American citizens on the list. It is an extremely small number, but I don’t have my numbers with me …,” Burriesci said.
Jordan summarized, according to BizPac Review:
“Ms. Burriesci, I’ve asked you the number of American’s who’ve traveled to Syria, you don’t know. The number of Americans who may have traveled and returned, you don’t know. The number of Syrian refugees who’ve entered the country in the last year, you don’t know. The number of visa waiver program overstays, you don’t know. The number of visa waiver overstays who may have been to Syria before they came here, you don’t know. And the number of American citizens on the no-fly list and you don’t know. And yet you are the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Screening Coordination, Office of Policy, Department of Homeland Security in front of the oversight committee and you can’t give us one single number to some, I think, pretty basic questions?”
Burriesci, a 1997 graduate of Binghamton University, struggled with other simple questions, as well.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, of Utah, also tried to pry out information to no avail, according to a video posted to YouTube.
She couldn’t explain whether most people come into the country by plane or by vehicle or on foot, how the department tracks those who leave by car, the number of people who have come in legally and overstayed, the departments or agencies that have access to the list of people who overstay, the databases the list is entered into, or how DHS asses potential threats among those who overstay.
Chaffetz pointed out that the subcommittee never requested to speak with Burriesci to begin with, and made it clear her non-answers to important national security questions aren’t going to fly.
“The request we sent was for (DHS Secretary) Jay Johnson, and Jay Johnson sent you as the expert on these topics, so this is why I think … Mr. Johnson, the secretary himself, needs to come answer these questions,” he said.
“You strike me as a very nice person, but these are basic questions about the functionality here and when we’re having a congressional hearing it is a waste of this committee’s time to send somebody who doesn’t know the answers to very basic questions,” Chaffetz continued. “ … You are accelerating the need to have multiple hearings on this.”
This spring, Burriesci discussed her role in DHS with Pipe Dream, “Binghamton University’s oldest and largest student newspaper.”
“I work on policies that facilitate the travel of individuals to the United States,” she said proudly in March. “The legitimate issuant of immigration benefits and policy that deters bad guys that threaten the United States.”
Ironically, Burriesci touted her experience and “preparedness” for the 30-something’s blazing-fast path through the ranks of the department.
“People tell me I’m lucky, but luck is when preparedness meets opportunity,” Burriesci said. “I was prepared to step up to the role. I knew my job and had the management skills needed if the opportunity was offered to me.”