By Joe Guzzardi
October 19, 2015
During the past few weeks, Capitol Hill has been mired in a debate about how many Syrian refugees, if any, the United States should invite. Traditionally, the U.S. accepts about 70,000 refugees annually, but Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged to up the total to 85,000 in 2016, and 100,000 by 2017. Kerry indicated that most if not all the refugees would be Syrian.
Syrian activists living in the U.S. have put heavy pressure on President Obama to agree to admit 65,000 Syrians in addition to the average intake. A Chicago activist, citing what he claims is America’s “moral obligation” to increase the Syrian population, circulated a petition with 100,000 signatures and, based on his appeal, met privately with Obama.
Refugee politics is one of the hot topics on the presidential campaign trail. Some candidates agree with the call for dramatically more Syrians even though the mechanics for vetting refugees is not in place, according to FBI director James Comey who testified before Congress.
Comey said he’s concerned that “certain gaps” exist in the data available to the FBI for background checks, and that the U.S. faces heightened risk when refugees come from a conflict zone like Syria.
In fiscal year 2015, the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center reported that 97 percent of the refugees who arrived here were Sunni Muslims chosen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which sets U.S. refugee policy.
The more publicity refugee resettlement receives, the more nervous America’s receiving cities become. Local communities are the ones that will be effected, that will have to subsidize resettlement with their federal tax dollars, and will have to adjust to the new customs that the refugees will bring to their neighborhoods.
Frustrated by their lack of a voice, representatives from numerous American cities have formed resistance groups to save their communities. In Twin Falls, ID., for example, refugee skeptics issued a statement that warned, in part, that the ramifications of ignoring Idaho’s citizens, its veterans, and the homeless may eventually yield tragic consequences if Idaho tax dollars continue to be poured into “a broken refugee system.” The group demanded a more thorough filtering of refugees and a more reliable method of integrating them into the general population.
But Americans who want a more thoughtful approach to resettling refugees face an uphill battle. U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) introduced a bill that would prohibit refugee admission until Congress passes a joint resolution giving the Department of Homeland Security authority to resume opening U.S. doors. HR 3314 would also, in order to help evaluate the cost of refugee admission, require the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress the aggregate cost of subsidizing refugees who receive welfare benefits.
The bill’s prospects are dim. Despite widespread American opinion that the nation should not jump headfirst into increasing the total of Syrians refugees, only 22 representatives, all Republican, have cosponsored HR 3314. More worrisome, a House Judiciary Committee oversight committee hearing scheduled for early October to discuss how to best handle the Syrian crisis was postponed indefinitely.
Business as usual in Washington: Americans want security, in this case in the form of an assurance that new refugees from terrorist-sponsoring nations will be properly screened. Congress, however, wants something else: a politically correct, possibly vote-winning approach to a serious threat despite the FBI’s cautionary alarm.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]