As President Obama presses communities to accept Syrian refugees, his current hometown of Washington, D.C., is likely to be spared much of the trouble.
About 180 communities across the U.S. welcome refugees, but some of the more obvious cities, including San Francisco, New York and Washington, aren’t high on the list because the cost of living is just too darned high for the refugees.
Instead, the top major cities include Atlanta, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Boston, the State Department said. There are a host of medium-sized cities as well: Boise, Idaho; Nashville, Tennessee; Tucson, Arizona; Buffalo, New York; and Erie, Pennsylvania, the department said in September as it laid out plans to take 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year.
Handling refugees spans multiple government agencies, with the State Department involved on the front end, Homeland Security overseeing the vetting and the Office of Refugee Resettlement within Health and Human Services Department responsible for resettling the refugees once they arrive.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement is the same agency that is handling the surge of illegal immigrant children from the southern border over the past few years, and it relies on a network of nine nonprofits — six of them faith-based — to place the refugees in communities that can handle them.
That means working with local mayors and school officials, and making sure hospitals and clinics in the area can handle some of the services the refugees are likely to need. In the case of Syrians, that could mean resources to care for children suffering from trauma after witnessing horrific acts of war.
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Of the Syrians already brought to the U.S. over the past couple of years, about half are children and another quarter are adults older than 60, a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday. The official stressed that only 2 percent of those accepted so far are “single males of combat age.”
“This is normal. As we set a priority of bringing the most vulnerable people we’re going to have female-headed households with lots of children,” the official said.
The official said the resettlement networks try to place refugees in places where the unemployment rate is low because more jobs are likely to be available for the Syrians.
The official also said the country can accept far more than the 70,000 refugees it has taken in over the past few years.
“The U.S. can be a home for many more refugees than we are currently bringing in,” the official said, stressing that the program has had bipartisan support that is slipping in the current debate.
Indeed, Republicans on Capitol Hill continued to call for a halt to the program to give the administration time to improve its vetting process.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Mr. Obama should hit “pause” on the program.
“We have a refugee situation that we think requires a pause and a more comprehensive assessment on how to better guarantee that members of ISIS are not infiltrating themselves among the refugee population,” Mr. Ryan said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
The extremist group, based in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the devastating attacks in Paris on Friday.
One of the terrorists is believed to have posed as a refugee to gain entry to the European Union through Greece in October before traveling to Paris.