Politics & Government

Just three states took in a quarter of all refugees in 2016

Syrian refugees in the U.S., by the numbers

Especially since the attacks in Paris, the opposition against Obama's plan to keep welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. has been growing. This 2-minute video provides a look at the numbers behind the people fleeing the Syrian crisis.
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Especially since the attacks in Paris, the opposition against Obama's plan to keep welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. has been growing. This 2-minute video provides a look at the numbers behind the people fleeing the Syrian crisis.

The U.S. took in its most refugees in fiscal year 2016 since 1999, with just three states taking a quarter of all new arrivals.

California (7,909), Texas (7,803) and New York (5,026) took in a combined 24 percent of the 84,955 admitted refugees, who are people who are fleeing their own country because of persecution and threats to their personal safety. Those three states make up 26 percent of the U.S. population, making their collective refugee intake roughly proportional per capita.

Just 10 states took in more than half (54 percent) of refugees arriving between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016. Delaware and Hawaii admitted no refugees, and Arkansas, the District of Columbia and Wyoming resettled fewer than 10 each.

Several states took in refugees at rates higher than their percentage of the U.S. population, with Nebraska (76), North Dakota (71) and Idaho (69) resettling the most refugees per 100,000 residents.

The number of admitted refugees came in just under the 85,000-person limit set by President Barack Obama for fiscal year 2016, which was an increase from 70,000 the previous year. Obama said at a U.N. summit on refugees in September that the 21 million people forced to flee their countries is “one of the most urgent tests of our time,” while arguing the world’s richest countries can and should be doing more to help the most vulnerable. But the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which has found bipartisan support since its beginning in 1980, received pushback, particularly when it comes to Syrian refugees.

Syrians (12,587) made up the second-largest origin group admitted in 2016, behind those from the Democratic Republic of Congo (16,370). The Syrians surpassed the goal of 10,000 Obama had set for admitting those fleeing the civil war in the Middle Eastern country, but the administration hasn’t specified how many Syrians it hopes will be among the 110,000 total refugees to be admitted in 2017.

As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on.” He has since partially backed off that demand, but his administration is likely to have an impact on the number of people allowed into the country as refugees. Domestic terror attacks last year caused 31 governors to demand the U.S. government stop resettling Syrians in their state out of fears terrorists could use the program to enter the country and carry out attacks.

The U.S. refugee program is run by the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, in conjunction with nine non-profit resettlement agencies. Refugees are not admitted into the country without undergoing extensive health and medical checks, a process that can take up to two years. Officials from the government and the non-profits determine where the refugees are sent based upon where they can be best accommodated with services, as well as taking into account family connections and things like cost of living and job opportunities.

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