- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2016

The U.S. welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee Monday afternoon, achieving President Obama’s goal with more than a month to spare in the fiscal year — and there are some 30,000 more waiting in the wings and ready to be resettled if the administration can handle them.

Human rights advocates said 10,000 is a good start but called for Mr. Obama to quickly ramp up the process. Congressional critics, meanwhile, fear the administration cut corners to boost its numbers, which jumped from fewer than 200 a month in October to more than 2,000 in each of June, July and August.

At that rate, the administration is on pace to end the fiscal year Sept. 30 having let in more than 12,000 Syrian refugees and prepared for an even bigger number next year.

White House and State Department officials wouldn’t commit to a new target. But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has cleared at least 46,000 people it has referred for resettlement in the U.S. since 2013, and only about 12,000 of those have been accepted so far, leaving more than 30,000 available should the U.S. raise its goals.

“I think the president would like to see a ramping-up of those efforts. But I think the president’s also realistic about how quickly that can happen,” Josh Earnest, Mr. Obama’s press secretary, told reporters Monday as the White House took a victory lap.

The 10,000 Syrians are part of an overall population of 85,000 refugees the administration wants to resettle this year. As of Monday, the U.S. was more than 15,000 shy of that overall refugee goal, leaving a major climb for the final month of September.

Mr. Obama has committed to welcoming up to 100,000 refugees overall in 2017, though human rights groups would like the country to do more, both in overall numbers and on Syrian refugees in particular.

“Now that our government has proven it can securely offer safety to 10,000 refugees desperately fleeing the Syrian conflict, it’s time to redouble our efforts and commit to protecting 200,000 refugees fleeing persecution all over the world in the coming year,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president of policy at refugee advocacy group HIAS.

The resettlement program has emerged as an issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican nominee Donald Trump saying that displaced Syrians pose a potential security threat.

His Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is on record saying the U.S. should accept as many as 65,000 Syrian refugees a year to live up to America’s world leadership role.

The UNHCR has registered some 5 million Syrians who have been displaced by the civil war there, but far fewer have been cleared for resettlement outside the region. The U.S. relies on the United Nations to refer likely candidates, and then Homeland Security and State Department officers do their own reviews and grant final approval.

Obama administration officials say Syrian refugees receive the highest scrutiny of any category of immigrant to the U.S., including some who have their social media accounts checked for signs of radical activity.

More than 99 percent of the Syrians accepted to the U.S. identify as Muslim, and about 11 percent are males ages 14 to 30, which is the subgroup considered prime targets for radicalization.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez says his officers are able to spot bogus applications and dangerous refugees. He said they are trained, are up to date on conditions in the countries and have access to a plethora of American databases.

Earlier in August, he said that of the applications where officers had reached a final decision, they approved about 92 percent and rejected 8 percent.

But officials have been unable to assuage the concerns of Republicans on Capitol Hill, who point to security holes identified by top U.S. national security officials: that the U.S. doesn’t have access to Syrian databases or to on-the-ground information in many cases, which could spot red flags in their home countries.

With those warnings in mind, Republicans in Congress last year tried to add protections, writing legislation that would have required the chiefs of the FBI, the intelligence service and the Homeland Security Department to have to sign off on each refugee. The goal was to elevate decisions to the highest level and bring more accountability to the process.

Mr. Obama, though, threatened to veto the legislation and Democrats in the Senate filibustered the bill in January, dooming it.

That has left the administration with a free hand to pursue resettlement, with the cooperation of nonprofits and local aid groups.

Refugees have been sent to cities across the continental U.S., with San Diego leading the way in August, accepting 142 refugees this month alone and 550 so far this year.

Other destinations were more surprising. For example, Glendale, Arizona, continues to be a hot spot for the refugees, with nearly 370 so far this year. Refugee officials in Arizona didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on the region’s status as a refugee nexus.

Michigan, meanwhile, is a more traditional destination and has taken in almost the same number of Syrians as California, which has four times the population.

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