The Obama administration is considering resettling thousands of refugees who left Syria during the country's ongoing civil war to multiple towns and cities across the United States, the L.A. Times reports.
A resettlement plan under discussion in Washington and other capitals is aimed at relieving pressure on Middle Eastern countries straining to support 1.6 million refugees, as well as assisting hard-hit Syrian families.
The State Department is "ready to consider the idea," an official from the department said, if the administration receives a formal request from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, which is the usual procedure.
The United States usually accepts about half the refugees that the U.N. agency proposes for resettlement. California has historically taken the largest share, but Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia are also popular destinations.
U.N. refugee officials, along with diplomats and non-governmental relief groups, are scheduled to meet in Geneva this week to discuss potential resettlement plans. Germany has already agreed to take 5,000 refugees.
"It was probably inevitable that in this crisis, with these overwhelming numbers, governments would start moving in this direction," Lavinia Limon, chief executive officer of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a Virginia-based advocacy and service group, told the L.A. Times. Limon added, "But there will be resistance."
Congress is unlikely to warm up to the idea of agreeing to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees into the U.S. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are currently pushing immigration reform bills, particularly aimed at Latinos who are in the country illegally, will need to explain why they may favor or oppose resettling thousands of Syrian refugees.
It should be noted that Congress resisted accepting Iraqi refugees in 2003 following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Between 1983 and 2009, the U.S. resettled a total of 76,205 Iraqis. Meanwhile, seventy percent of total refugees in the U.S. were on food stamps in 2009. Within that number, 95 percent of Iraqi refugees were food stamp recipients. Additionally, the report shows an unemployment rate of 46 percent in 2009 among Iraqi refugees. A total of 219 Syrian refugees were resettled in the U.S. between 1983 and 2009.
More importantly, President Obama's administration supports Syrians who are attempting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, but the emergence of Islamic extremist groups with ties to al Qaeda among the Syrian opposition presents a serious security concern. The L.A. Times alludes to the potential danger with such a resettlement:
Homeland security officials require careful vetting of refugees, with multiple interviews and background checks before they are allowed to enter the country. Under normal circumstances, the screening process can take a year or longer.
U.S. officials are likely to be extra careful with Syrian refugees. As Islamic militants take a more prominent role in the rebel forces, officials worry about fighters with Al Qaeda ties trying to enter the country. Two resettled Iraqis were convicted of trying to send arms to Al Qaeda from their home in Bowling Green, Ky.
New National Security Advisor Susan Rice and President Obama's nominee for U.N. ambassador Samantha Power are both refugee advocates and will likely push for the resettlement.