President Obama set the number of Syrian refugees to be resettled here this fiscal year at 10,000, with next year’s target probably being 25,000. It’s not that he and Democrats in Congress didn’t want to take hundreds of thousands more, but they calculated that 10,000 is all they could get away with politically in the face of opposition from the bitter clingers.
So, in order to sneak more Syrians past the public, the administration is getting creative. As my colleague Nayla Rush has spelled out, the White House and the UN are devising “alternative pathways” for Syrians to come to the United States. A Georgetown professor who advises the UN on refugee issues said at a panel in D.C. recently that:
There may be ways that we could encourage Syrians to come to the U.S. without going through this laborious, time-consuming process of refugee resettlement.
Remember that the administration boasts of the “laborious, time-consuming” nature of the refugee process as proof that terrorists won’t be admitted (unlike the “more than three dozen suspected militants” who are believed to have entered Europe that way). For instance, the State Department official in charge of refugees told a House hearing last fall that “Applicants to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program are currently subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.”
The first thing the White House has done is simply cut corners, reducing the screening time for refugees from 18-24 months down to three months in a “surge” operation in Jordan. But this is designed simply to reach the 10,000 target by September 30 (the end of the fiscal year), which could not have been reached had the administration maintained the “laborious, time-consuming process” it boasted of previously.
But to increase the overall number, “other forms of humanitarian admissions” are needed, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These would include easing family reunification rules, increasing scholarships and student visas for Syrians, remove administrative barriers (like security checks?) for refugee admissions, new “labor mobility” arrangements (work visas), among other stratagems. This is the context in which to read the State Department’s press statement that said, “The United States joins UNHCR in calling for new ways nations, civil society, the private sector, and individuals can together address the global refugee challenge.”
UN meetings in London and Geneva so far this year, where these topics were addressed, were preparing for the Global Refugee Summit to be hosted by President Obama in New York this September. If the administration agrees at that meeting to increase admissions of Syrians outside the existing refugee program, will Congress have any say in the matter? Will the administration report on how many additional Syrians come via those avenues? And if refugees are “subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler,” does that mean Syrians coming through these alternative means will be less-thoroughly screened? And who should we blame when one of them blows something up?