(Update: Adds State Department comment)
(CNSNews.com) – As the Obama administration institutes a “surge” aimed at meeting its goal – currently way off-target – of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, the Associated Press has cited an official at the U.S. Embassy in Amman as saying that the time taken to process each admission is being cut to three months.
“While the resettlement process usually takes 18 to 24 months, under the surge operation this will be reduced to three months, [regional refugee coordinator Gina] Kassem said,” the AP reported Wednesday.
With the fiscal year now more than half over, the number of Syrian refugees admitted as of Wednesday stands at 1,353, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.
In order to meet the 10,000 target by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the AP report said that around 600 Syrian refugees were being interviewed daily at a “resettlement surge center” which was opened in Amman last February.
“The U.N. Refugee Agency prioritizes the most vulnerable cases for resettlement, and then refers them to the U.S. to review, Kassem said. She said that priority is given to high-risk groups such as victims of torture and gender based violence and unaccompanied minors,” the AP reported.
A State Department official disputed that security screening will be compromised.
“All applicants will still be subject to the same stringent security and medical requirements that apply to all applicants for U.S. refugee resettlement,” the official said Thursday. “All other necessary procedures will remain unchanged.”
“While this surge and other efforts will decrease the overall processing time for individual families, the average processing time worldwide remains 18-24 months,” the State Department official added. “As we said, neither this surge nor any of our efforts to expand processing capacity curtail any aspects of the security, medical, or other screening.”
Throughout the debate over the potential security implications of President Obama’s plan to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. in FY2016, the administration has stressed that the application process – which includes vetting and interviews by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – takes 18-24 months.
Security concerns deepened after the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks stoked fears that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) was using refugee admission programs to infiltrate Western countries.
A number of Republican governors and several of the GOP presidential candidates called on the administration to reconsider the plan.
Four days after the Paris attack, Obama mocked the critics, saying during a visit to the Philippines that the Republican presidential hopefuls talked tough about solving problems but “apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion.”
“Understand, under current law, it takes anywhere from, on average, 18 to 24 months to clear a refugee to come into the United States,” the president said. “They are subjected to the most rigorous process conceivable.”
That process, Obama said, included vetting by the U.S. intelligence community and other agencies, as well as biometrics.
“There is an entire apparatus of all of our law enforcement agencies and the center that we use for countering terrorism to check and ensure that a refugee is not admitted that might cause us harm,” he said.
Last Tuesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked about the challenge facing the administration in reaching the target of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next six months, and again underscored the 18-24 month processing time.
“We are still very committed to the goal of reaching 10,000 by the end of the [fiscal] year,” he said. “We are also equally committed to helping ensure the safety and security of the American people.”
“As we’ve said, refugees from Syria are given the highest scrutiny of any other type of refugee,” Kirby said. “In the main, it takes 18 to 24 months for an individual – and by the way, we have to look at these from an individual basis.”
“We look at each person,” he added. “It takes about a year-and-a-half to two years to work through that process.”
Asked about processing time for infants, Kirby said 18-24 months was an average.
“I can’t dispute the fact that some probably don’t take that long and some probably take longer than 24 months. I mean, it’s – 18 to 24 months is an average.”
Of the 1,353 Syrian refugees admitted since the fiscal year began on October 1, 358 (26.4 percent) are males between the ages of 14 and 50, and 317 (23.4 percent) are females aged 14-50.
Another 599 (44.2 percent) are children aged under 14, and 79 (5.8 percent) are men and women older than 50.
Of the 1,353, nine (0.6 percent) are Christians, 1,317 (97.3 percent) are Sunni Muslims. Making up the rest are eight Shi’ites, 18 other Muslims, and one person identified in the data as “other religion.”