With his self-imposed deadline looming, President Barack Obama’s pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States is nowhere near completion.
Through April — more than seven months into the fiscal year — the U.S. had resettled only 1,736 Syrian refugees. Should that rate continue, fewer than 3,000 Syrians will have entered the country by the end of the fiscal year.
To reach 10,000 resettlements by September would require a sixfold increase in the current acceptance rate of Syrian refugees, an increase the president expects will be possible.
“Administratively, I think we now have the process to speed it up,” Obama said at a briefing with college reporters last week. “And we believe that we can hit those marks by the end of the year.”
Last September, in response to growing international pressure, Obama announced his intent to welcome at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S.
That plan was met with opposition from Congress and many Republican governors, who have claimed the refugee screening process isn’t thorough enough to keep out potential terrorists.
“The truth of the matter is that the refugee processing generally is much more rigorous in its screening and its vetting than the average tourist who comes in here,” Obama said.
It can take up to two years for a Syrian refugee to be screened, processed and admitted into the U.S. It’s a complex process involving sit-down interviews with the United Nations, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, multiple background checks, fingerprint screenings and health examinations.
Around 10 percent of Syrians recommended by the United Nations for resettlement in the U.S. are admitted.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was one of the loudest voices in opposition to Syrian resettlement. In November, he directed state agencies to suspend processing of refugees until he was assured the screening process was effective.
The ACLU and Indianapolis-based Exodus Refugee Immigration sued the Governor, calling his announcement discriminatory and “an unconstitutional bluff.” In February, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in the case.
In the meantime, 33 Syrian refugees have settled in Indiana since September, according to State Department data. Exodus Refugee Immigration, which processes the bulk of refugees in the Indianapolis area, is bracing for a rush of new families.
“I can confirm that Syrian arrivals have been slow this fiscal year,” Executive Director Cole Varga said. “Refugee arrivals will likely see an increase during the summer months.”
As neighbors and allies allow millions of Syrian refugees across their borders, the U.S. has been criticized for its slow response.
Since civil war ripped through Syria five years ago, more than 3 million Syrians have settled in Turkey and Jordan. Germany said last fall it could handle 500,000 refugees per year. Canada has accepted more than 26,000 Syrians.
In five years, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 4,000 Syrian refugees.
“Our closest friends and allies ... have taken on an enormous burden,” Obama said. “And as the most powerful nation on Earth, it’s important for us to do our duty as well here, our humanitarian obligation. And it’s important for us to send a signal around the world that we care about these folks.”