President Obama has set a goal this year of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees who have fled the devastating civil war in that country. This would be a large increase from previous years.
The latest State Department reports say just over 2,800 have come so far this year. Some activists describe it as a relatively slow start, but they say the Obama administration could reach its goal by year’s end.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has criticized Obama’s plan and says the program should be suspended. Hillary Clinton has called for taking in even larger numbers of Syrian refugees.
Here’s a look at the details.
“We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States,” Trump said this week. “We don’t know who they are. They have no documentation and we don’t know what they’re planning.”
Is Trump’s statement accurate?
The Short Answer
What Trump calls a “tremendous flow,” activists for refugees describe as a trickle.
Nearly 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since the war began in 2011, according to the United Nations refugee agency. And compared with the number of Syrian refugees that some other Western countries have taken in, the 10,000 figure proposed by Obama is small, according to many activists.
“The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that a million Syrians need resettlement,” said Mark Hetfield, who runs HIAS, which helps to resettle refugees. “Canada, which is a country with one-tenth of our population, accepted 26,000 over the course of four months. So the U.S. response has been quite modest, to say the least.”
The Long Answer
Refugees go through more security checks than any other traveler to the U.S., according to Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First. She says this is particularly true for refugees from Middle East war zones.
“We actually know a lot about Syrian refugees before they are brought to the U.S. through our resettlement process,” Acer said.
Refugees must provide documents, their family histories and go through security interviews and other checks, and the ones who are admitted tend to be the most vulnerable, she noted.
“They’ve been victims of the Syrian regime, some of them are victims of ISIL [Islamic State] terror,” Acer said. “Others are just families who were targeted because of their background by the regime. People who refused to serve the regime were targeted and tortured.”
Acer said the U.S. has a long history of providing people refuge from political and religious persecution.
The Refugee Act of 1980 set up the program that now brings in about 70,000 refugees a year from all over the world. In recent years, few have been Syrians, who have totaled about 2,000 for the years 2012 through 2015, according to State Department figures.
Trump is calling for Obama’s program for this year be put on hold. And many, mostly Republican, governors have raised concerns about the possibility that extremists could sneak in among refugees.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said last September that she would like to expand Obama’s program:
“Look, we’re facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II, and I think the United States has to do more, and I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000 and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in.”
Hetfield of HIAS says the refugee program used to be bipartisan.
“I’ve been in this business for 27 years now and for almost all of my career we’ve had as many Republican champions as we have had Democratic champions. And that has totally changed,” he said, adding that he believes this is because of misinformation on the campaign trail.