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US officials defend refugee resettlement program amid Republican backlash

Republican lawmakers have called for a "pause" in the US' Syrian refugee resettlement program after deadly attacks in Paris. However, US officials have defended the policy, citing a "robust screening process."

Republican lawmakers in the Congress are calling on US President Barack Obama's administration to "pause" its Syrian refugee resettlement program following "Islamic State"-claimed attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead.

"The prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population," US House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters in Washington.

Ryan, who was voted in as House speaker less than three weeks ago, said he organized a task force to consider legislation that would suspend the program announced by Obama in September.

Since Monday, more than 20 US governors have called for a suspension of the resettlement program.

Ryan's statement comes as Republican presidential candidates have also proposed stronger vetting procedures, including a proposed religious test, suggested by Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Watch video 02:25

Obama under pressure after Paris attacks

'Robust screening process'

Meanwhile, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Tuesday that protecting the US from the "Islamic State" militant group was the Justice Department's top priority.

"Certainly, there are challenges to that process because of the situation in Syria," Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee.

"But I would note, however, that we do have the benefit of having that significant and robust screening process in place, a process that Europe has not been able to set up, which renders them more vulnerable," Lynch added.

In an interview with American broadcaster NBC, Secretary of State John Kerry also defended the US' refugee resettlement program, saying that out of 785,000 refugees accepted since 2001, only 12 "were found to perhaps be problematic with respect to potential terror."

ls/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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