- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

President Obama’s Syrian refugee surge appears to be over, with the administration drastically cutting the number it’s accepted so far in the new fiscal year.

Just 1,297 Syrians were resettled in October, the first month of fiscal year 2017. That’s down nearly 30 percent compared to September, and off about 60 percent from August, when the government accepted 3,189 refugees.

Experts said it appears the agencies in the U.S. that are responsible for vetting and approving refugees have been overwhelmed by the massive increases in the number of people coming, but the agencies themselves insisted all is well.

“There are no holdups and no plans for another surge, but we are enhancing processing capacity in all of our Middle East locations and implementing best practices from the surges conducted in FY2016,” a State Department official said by email.

Several resettlement groups said the spring and summer are considered peak season for refugees, suggesting that the drop in pace is cyclical.

Refugees overall are down about 25 percent compared to their August peak. But the 60 percent drop in Syrians over that same time suggests a change in the controversial program in the months ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

As late as August, the administration had insisted it would keep up the rapid pace.

“The current pace of arrivals will continue through the end of this fiscal year,” Anne C. Richard, assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration, said. “For next year we will continue to welcome large numbers of Syrians, but it’s too soon to have a target figure established.”

Mr. Obama last year set a goal of accepting 85,000 refugees overall, with 10,000 of them coming from Syria.

His administration met the overall target and beat the Syrian number, taking more than 12,500 — but only after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services launched a “surge” of manpower and resources into the Middle East to speed applications through.

This year, Mr. Obama has set a goal of accepting 110,000 refugees. That’s up 29 percent over 2016, and up 57 percent from 2015.

He has not set a particular target for Syrians.

There are hundreds of thousands of Syrians awaiting resettlement, and tens of thousands of them have been approved by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as good candidates for the U.S., so the hiccup is not a lack of candidates.

One expert said the issue is that the administration has overstretched itself with its goal of a 57 percent increase in refugees in just two years.

“In my opinion, the system is being overwhelmed,” said Matthew J. O’Brien, a former USCIS official who is now research director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

He said his former agency doesn’t have enough people, nor the right mix of skills, to properly vet the large number of refugees it’s being asked to admit, particularly with all the other duties the Obama administration has placed on it.

“The recent reductions in the numbers of Syrian refugees currently being processed may simply be the result of USCIS confronting the fact that it doesn’t have the bodies, or the specialized skills, to handle the most recent surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border, [deferred action for childhood arrivals], investor parole, H-1B cap season, Syrian refugee vetting and all of its other day-to-day responsibilities,” he said.



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