WH: Obama Wants to 'Ramp Up' Commitment to Admitting Syrian Refugees

By Susan Jones | August 30, 2016 | 6:06 AM EDT

Five members of the Jouriyeh family will soon be living in the United States. These Syrian refugees fled to Jordan, where they have been vetted and approved for admission as part of the State Department's resettlement efforts. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama is "gratified" that his administration has succeeded in meeting its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States this fiscal year, and he "certainly would like to see the United States continue to ramp up our commitment," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday.

As CNSNews.com reported on Monday, 10,126 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States for Fiscal 2016, of whom 52 -- or 0.51 percent -- are Christians; and 9,945 -- or 98.2 -- percent, are Sunni Muslims.

"And the truth is that this administration did succeed in meeting this goal, a significant ramping up of the number of Syrian refugees to the United States. And we're able to do all of that without cutting any corners when it comes to security," Earnest said.

"And a significant screening was put in place to ensure that these individuals don't pose an undue threat to our national security. That's the kind of screening that every refugee applicant is subjected to.

"And we're able to meet this goal without cutting any of those corners. So the president is gratified that we have succeeded in meeting this goal."

Earnest said the president would like to see the United States "continue to expand our ambition" when it comes to responding to Syria's humanitarian crisis. He noted that the U.S. already has provided more humanitarian assistance than any other country. "And we certainly are playing an important role here in accepting refugees from that conflict," Earnest added, although the number of refugees taken in by the United States falls far short of the tally in European country.

"The United States is obviously in a different place, literally, than countries in Europe," Earnest explained. "The United States is separated by a large ocean when it comes to these refugees. And so the situation that we face is different when it comes to this set of refugees.

"And the president does believe it's important for the United States to do our part. That's why we increased our ambition and admitted 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. But I think the president certainly would like to see the United States continue to ramp up our commitment."

Earnest said people who complain that the United States has taken in "too many" or not enough Syrian refugees "are playing politics," whereas President Obama is just "focused on doing the right thing."

A reporter asked Earnest, "How would you reassure people who are concerned about maybe some radicalized person getting through, that you were able to do this safely, given that the process is generally considered to be a two-year vetting process?"

"This is a process that typically does take quite a bit of time," Earnest agreed. He said a number of refugees "were already in the pipeline" when President Obama committed the United States to accepting 10,000 of them.

"And essentially, what the Obama administration was able to do, was to mobilize resources, both within the intelligence community, within the Department of Homeland Security, to do things like deploy more officers to conduct interviews.

"You'll recall that this vetting of refugee applicants involves collecting biometric information, doing in-person interviews, doing background checks, running their information through a variety of national security and international databases. And a lot of that just requires personnel and expertise.

"And President Obama made this a priority. You'll recall when the president made this commitment, he made clear that we weren't going to cut corners when it comes to security, and that in order to meet this higher threshold, it was going to require not shortchanging the security steps, but actually increasing the resources that are being deployed to our security.

"And that's exactly what we've done. And the president is gratified that even in the face of a lot of doubt, this is a goal that was met a month ahead of schedule. OK?"

Resettlement

The State Department has cooperative agreements with nine domestic agencies to resettle refugees. "While some of the agencies have religious affiliations, they are not allowed to proselytize," the department says.

Those nine domestic resettlement agencies place refugees in about 190 communities throughout the United States. Many of the Syrian refugees have gone to Michigan and California.

Refugees are provided with a furnished apartment, "climate-appropriate clothing, and some of the food typical of the refugee’s culture," the State Department says.

"Shortly after arrival, refugees are helped to start their lives in the United States. This includes applying for a Social Security card, registering children in school, learning how to access shopping facilities, arranging medical appointments, and connecting refugees with needed social or language services."

The Department of State’s Reception and Placement program provides assistance for refugees to settle in the United States, including a one-time sum per refugee to assist with meeting expenses during a refugee’s first few months in the United States. Most of these funds go toward the refugees’ rent, furnishings, food, and clothing.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement works through the states and other nongovernmental organizations to provide longer-term cash and medical assistance, as well as language, employment, and social services.

Refugees receive employment authorization upon arrival and are encouraged to become employed as soon as possible. Based on years of experience, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has found that people learn English and begin to function comfortably much faster if they start work soon after arrival. Most refugees begin in entry-level jobs, even if they have high-level skills or education. With time, many if not most refugees move ahead professionally and find both success and satisfaction in the United States.

After one year, refugees are required to apply for permanent residence (a green card) and after five years in the United States, a refugee is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.