The Obama administration on Monday announced that the United States settled its 10,000th Syrian refugee, giving a special shout out to the federal employees who made the accomplishment possible.
President Obama last year called for a significant uptick in the number of Syrian refugees the government would accept in fiscal 2016, creating a backlash among congressional Republicans and requiring agencies to surge to meet the new goal. The administration accomplished its goal one month ahead of schedule, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Monday.
“This achievement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of employees across the federal government,” Rice said. “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.”
Several federal agencies are involved in the resettlement program, including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Health and Human Services, as well as the intelligence community.
After the United Nations recommends a Syrian for resettling in the United States, DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sends a mobile unit -- typically based in Turkey or Jordan -- to conduct in-person interviews and collect biometric data such as fingerprints. The information gathered is then checked against FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence databases. Once the screening process, which generally takes 18-24 months on average, is completed, State and HHS work with states and local organizations to settle the individuals. The refugees resettled over the last year had already begun the screening process when Obama announced the surge last fall.
In the first four years since the Syrian civil war broke out, the United States settled a total of just 2,000 of the country’s refugees. Obama administration officials said in a November meeting the revised target would require agencies “adapting and flexing.”
“We can do that, and it’s a bit of a stretch, but we can do it,” one official said. “I’m confident of it.”
Agencies involved in the process moved staff around to accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees, and sought out volunteers within their ranks to work on the task. Those offices provided additional training to the relocated employees to get them up to speed on the refugee program.
Obama has yet to announce how many refugees the country will admit in fiscal 2017, but the administration has warned upping the number is “absolutely dependent on having the resources to run the program.” Absent appropriations from Congress, which has to date been reluctant to provide the spending surge, accommodating another uptick could prove difficult. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has called for the resettlement of 65,000 Syrian refugees, which her GOP rival Donald Trump has derided as a foolish threat to national security.