O’Donnell: RISP will give Raimondo ‘pros and cons’ of RI refugee situation


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As Paris recovers from a series of terror attacks, the United States is divided over how to handle refugees from Syria who are hoping to find asylum in the states.

Rhode Island State Police Commissioner Col. Steven O’Donnell said his department will play a role should refugees be brought into the state.

However, before someone from Syria gets to Rhode Island, O’Donnell said he or she has to go through the U.S. State Department, which has had vetting and interviewing protocols in place for years.

If the White House asks Rhode Island to house some refugees, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she will closely coordinate with Col. O’Donnell.

“I will give her all the pros and cons of what we know, how it works with the Department of State, how it would happen,” O’Donnell told Eyewitness News Thursday. “And then the governor would have to make that decision. We have no active, operational role in relocating anybody, that would come from any country, into Rhode Island.”

In the current refugee debate, people have mentioned fingerprinting as a way to track who is entering the country. According to O’Donnell, there are some problems with that method.

“Sometimes the fingerprint is flawed because you’re coming from a country that doesn’t share fingerprints with us,” he said.

He also said the lack of a criminal record abroad doesn’t make tracking any easier.

“The only reason those fingerprints matter – sometimes when you radicalize and you blow yourself up – so we can identify who you are,” O’Donnell said.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island has a post 9/11 fusion center – an intelligence-sharing hub between both Boston and New York – to track happenings around the country.

“We talk to Mass, Connecticut, all the other fusion centers connect. So if something happens to Oklahoma and it has a tie to Rhode Island, they talk to each other,” O’Donnell said.

The refugee resettlement process certainly presents a channel capable of potentially being exploited by those who would do harm, according to O’Donnell.

He said it’s impossible to eliminate the global terrorist threat, but Rhode Islanders should be pre-emptive and minimize exposure.

“No matter where they live. We have people of the radicalized of this country for different reasons – but they ‘sell’ it. And sell it on social media. People that are frustrated, that are easy to be radicalized, that believe in something – and it’s difficult to police someone who’s willing to die for whatever cause,” said Col. O’Donnell. “It’s right on their Facebook pages, it’s right out there publicly. ‘We’re going to your country and we’re going to kill your people.’ So that’s something that you have to take seriously.”

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