The Cable

Resettling Syrian Refugees in the United States Is Easier Said Than Done

Resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States will be an arduous process.

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Last week, the United States said it would resettle 10,000 refugees displaced by Syria’s four-and-a-half-year-old civil war. That’s far less than nations like Germany, which has pledged to take hundreds of thousands of Syrians and on Monday said it expected to accept as many as 1 million migrants this year alone. But following through on that promise is much easier said than done.

Any refugee who wants to come and live in the United States needs to be vetted by the U.S. government. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is already warning that the United States lacks the capability to properly investigate whether those who are leaving an area where the Islamic State is active have ties to Islamic extremism.

“Before agreeing to accept thousands of Syrian refugees, the Obama administration must prove to the American people that it will take the necessary precautions to ensure that national security is a top priority, especially at a time when ruthless terrorist groups like ISIS are committed to finding ways to enter the United States and harm Americans,” Grassley said in a Sept. 11 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Grassley’s concerns echo those of House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Last week, McCaul urged caution as President Barack Obama increased the number of Syrians coming to the United States.

“We are a compassionate nation. We have to deal with this crisis,” McCaul added Sunday. “But, you know, this could be a very reckless and dangerous policy.”

The Homeland Security Department (DHS) is responsible for considering the cases of Syrian refugees. Right now, it takes between 18 and 24 months to review refugee applications. And it’s an arduous process.

First, the United Nations must refer the refugees for consideration. Then, DHS and other agencies review the case to make sure those seeking resettlement are not “liars, criminals, or would-be terrorists,” a State Department official said last week.

The only way to quicken the process is for Congress to spend more money to fund it. But among lawmakers, opposition to Obama’s plans is quickly growing.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Sunday said, “We are taking shortcuts in terms of vetting process.… And we need to be first concerned about our own national security.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont also said the United States should be cautious when it comes to resettling Syrians.

“I think it’s impossible to give a proper number until we understand the dimensions of the problem,” Sanders said Sunday. “Much of what I feared would happen in fact did happen — massive destabilization in that region.… Really, the issue now is not who is at fault; the issue is now what we do.”

Photo credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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