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First Syrian Refugees Hit US Soil As Obama Resettlement Surge Begins

REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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The first Syrian refugees admitted into the country under President Barack Obama’s contested resettlement program arrived in Missouri Wednesday from Jordan, where they had lived for three years after fleeing the Syrian civil war.
“I am ready to integrate in the U.S. and start a new life,” Ahmad al-Abboud, 45, told the Associated Press, as he and his wife and five kids boarded a plane for Kansas City — their new home.

The Obama administration plans to accept an extra 45,000 refugees in the next two years, including a minimum of 10,000 Syrian refugees by September, 2016, which will increase the annual total to at least 200,000 refugees. Most of the Syrian refugees will be resettled from Jordan, according to the regional refugee coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in its capital of Amman, where the family had been living.

“The 10,000 [figure] is a floor and not a ceiling,” the coordinator, Gina Kassem, told the Associated Press. “And it is possible to increase the number.”

Resettling the additional refugees will cost billions of dollars in welfare, education and entitlement costs. A recent analysis of government data found more than 90 percent of Middle Eastern refugees are on food stamps and more than 70 percent receive free healthcare.

Ahmad al-Abboud, 45, told the AP he is thankful to Jordan for housing him and his family, but is glad to be in the U.S. and is ready to start working. After fleeing Homs, Syria, which has been devastated by the civil war, al-Abboud and his family lived north of Amman for three years, subsisting on food stamps because he couldn’t find a job.

“I’m happy,” he said. “America is the country of freedom and democracy, there are jobs opportunities, there is good education, and we are looking forward to having a good life over there.”

Obama’s plan has drawn criticism because of concerns about the country’s ability to properly vet incoming refugees from Iraq and Syria. FBI director James Comey said the federal government cannot conduct thorough background checks on every admitted refugee, in part because of a lack of information to check the refugees against.

“And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them,” Comey testified before Congress in October.

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