After a slow start to Syrian resettlement, because of resistance by assorted Governors and Conservative groups, The Obama administration’s annual goal of 10,000 arrivals is now within reach. Thanks to a decision by Obama to speed-up the vetting process, something that has caused a major flap in the congress, the influx of Syrians to the U.S. has accelerated in recent weeks and annual arrivals are likely to reach 10,000 by the end of September, the target amount promised by Obama.
Last year, the U.S. pledged to resettle 85,000 refugees from all over the world in the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, including at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. But March 31, halfway through the fiscal year, only 1,285 Syrians had arrived, according to official data. That is when Obama directed the State Department to speed up the process of screening. As a result, by June 30, the Syrian number had jumped to 5,211. Overall refugee admissions had reached 49,791.
Among Syrians admitted this year, 20% are adult men, 20% are adult women and 60% are children. The vast majority of the men are in a family unit, said a State Department spokesman. The deployment of additional staff and resources in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq has enabled both the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review more applications and complete more security checks in recent months, he said.
Between February and April, Homeland Security officers in Amman, Jordan, interviewed about 12,000 individuals referred by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. The U.S. resettled 1,682 Syrians in fiscal year 2015 and only 105 in 2014. So far this fiscal year, Michigan California and Illinois have been the top three recipients of Syrian refugees.
Previously, due to security checks, it took about two years for a refugee to be admitted to the U.S., but not anymore. Typically, the vetting includes several interviews of family members, together and apart, background checks, fingerprinting and iris scans, among other things.
The increase in arrivals “does not represent a curtailment, in any way, of our comprehensive and robust security screening,” said the State Department spokesman. “Syrian refugees are subject to even more scrutiny” than other refugees, he added.
But other security experts that deal with Refugees like, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, are critical of U.S. refugee-resettlement efforts. Mr. Krikorian said he wasn’t confident in the new vetting conducted by the Obama Administration. “They aren’t going to admit the next 5,000 Syrians in three months unless they are rushing through the supposedly rigid security screening,” he said.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and the U.S., the resettlement of Muslims, particularly from Syria, has become a contested issue at the state level and in the presidential campaign. In November, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a halt to cooperation with nonprofit agencies that are contracted by the federal government to settle refugees; GOP governors in roughly two dozen other states voiced opposition to receiving Syrians.
Last month, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Texas that sought to suspend resettlement. Texas had claimed the Obama administration didn’t adequately consult with the state, as required by law, before sending refugees there. In his decision, the judge ruled that the state didn’t have authority over resettlement by the federal government. The judge also said the state had failed to present plausible evidence that Syrian refugees pose an imminent threat.
But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. until the effect of such resettlements can be studied and the dangers that it may or may not present to the public can be weighed. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has called for boosting the number of Syrian refugees that the U.S. accepts and speeding up the pace at which they are accepted into the country.
Of course, refugee advocacy groups, which had previously criticized the slow pace of Syrian arrivals, said they were pleased with the recent progress. But they continue to call on Washington to do more.
“The Obama administration’s 10,000 goal remains an exceedingly modest one, when compared with the scale of the refugee crisis and the resources of the United States,” said Anwen Hughes, deputy legal director of New York-based Human Rights First.
The Wall Street Journal contributed to this report.
©2016 R. L. Grimes