The U.S. has met its resettlement goal of 10,000 Syrian refugees, but aid groups say the target is a woefully insufficient contribution for a country of American size and resources while opponents say the process endangers national security.
Refugees fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria have overwhelmed surrounding countries as well as a Europe that has struggled to deal with the boatloads of desperate people arriving on its shores. The U.S. must do more to aid people who have been forced to leave their homes due to the violence, said Noah Gottschalk, senior humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam America.
“We’d like to see these numbers increase really significantly. It’s important to recognize 10,000 is an incredibly modest goal given the crisis,” Gottschalk said. “The U.S. can and should be doing a lot more, so meeting this 10,000 shows — especially given the majority came in only in the last few months — that when we have a the political will and the funding in place we can scale up this program.”
While the U.S. has made significant monetary contributions to Middle Eastern countries who are bearing the heaviest burden, its own intake of refugees has been modest. President Barack Obama will host a summit on the refugee crisis at next month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York, where he will call on other countries to increase both funding for humanitarian appeals as well as resettlement quotas.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday said the U.S. was “proud” of its resettlement record, but acknowledged that the recent accelerated pace of admittance doesn’t compensate for the trickle of refugees who arrived in past years. The State Department works with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to resettle refugees.
“Their commitment to meeting the president’s expectation that we both increase our refugee admissions and strengthen the integrity of the refugee program, including its stringent security screening protocols, has been essential to this effort,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in announcing that the 10,000th refugee would arrive in the U.S. Monday.
For some, 10,000 is too many. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made immigration and national security a contentious campaign issue. He frequently says that Syrian refugees pose a security threat in light of recent lone-wolf attacks that perpetrators indicated were inspired by the Islamic State group. Trump has said that the Obama administration is “letting tens of thousands of people come in from Syria and nobody knows who these people are and a lot of those people are ISIS.”
Following the terrorist attack last year in Paris, more than 30 governors said Syrian refugees were not welcome to resettle in their state. Congress sought in January to pass a bill that would prevent any Syrians from coming into the country.
"Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concerns, and [Homeland Security] Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that 'organizations such as [the Islamic State group] might like to try to exploit this program,' " Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in defense of the bill, which was defeated. "Is it any wonder that the citizens we represent are concerned?"
None of the terror attacks in the U.S. have been perpetrated by Syrian refugees.
Refugees are the most stringently vetted category of traveler allowed to enter the U.S. They are subject to extensive background, security and health checks before a candidate is accepted for asylum. That process usually takes at least 18 months — sometimes longer — before a refugee is put on a plane to arrive in the U.S.
“Thousands of families from Syria have found safety on our shores, and that is a wonderful thing. But so many are still trapped in horrific conditions in refugee camps or war zones,” said Amnesty International Senior Director Tarah Demant. “The U.S. must do more to uphold its responsibility to do all it can to protect those fleeing human rights abuses.”
Hannah Allam contributed to this report.