The State Department said the number of refugees admitted from Syria is expected to increase despite concern voice in a House Homeland Security hearing this week that the program is a “huge mistake.”
Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that 524 Syrians have been admitted as refugees since the uprising against Bashar Assad’s regime began in 2011.
“We’re likely to admit 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement in fiscal year 2015 and a somewhat higher number that is still in the low thousands in fiscal year 2016,” she said. “I don’t have anymore details on where. There’s obviously an entire process that is undergone.”
Psaki defended the process as keeping in standing with the United States’ “long tradition of welcoming refugees, many of whom have fled unspeakable horrors and persecution.”
“There has been longstanding bipartisan support for this in Congress. And certainly I think if we look at the crisis in Syria and the unspeakable horrors that many people in that country have gone through, what many people have called for is support for more refugees, which certainly we are open to,” she added.
Refugees are admitted “in a way that is safe and consistent with our national security interests” in a process that “can take months, if not longer.”
“And we have a lot of experience with this, with Afghanistan, with Iraq, with Somalia and other places where the United States has taken refugees in from,” Pskai said. “Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to the United States. Every refugee under consideration for admission to the United States undergoes the same intensive security screening involving multiple federal intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies. These include the NCTC, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI. This process includes a lengthy overseas in-person refugee determination and security screening interview conducted by specifically trained — specially trained DHS officers.”
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) recently sent a letter to the White House expressing concern over the State Department’s plan to resettle tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the conflict in the U.S. “I am worried that ISIS could exploit this effort in order to deploy operatives to America via a federally funded jihadi pipeline,” McCaul said this week.
Psaki said today she’s “not seen evidence that suggests that the screening system is not as rigorous as it needs to be.”
She said additional screening measures were implemented “as a result of evidence that came in on two Iraqis after they were admitted to Kentucky” tying them to violent activity in Iraq.