The U.S. is accepting 80 percent of the Syrian refugees applying for resettlement in the country, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
USCIS has been processing increasing numbers of Syrian refugees as immigration officials continue to work out President Obama’s plan to resettle at least 10,000 this fiscal year. The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refers refugees to the U.S. for consideration after conducting an initial screening process.
Eighty percent of Syrian applicants interviewed by USCIS between 2011 and July 2016 have been cleared for resettlement, while 7 percent have been denied and 13 percent are on hold. Applicants are denied if they are flagged as a known or suspected terrorist when checked against databases, or if there are significant credibility concerns. Those put on hold are pending further analysis and investigation.
“Hundreds have been denied,” USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez told reporters on a conference call Tuesday, touting the administration’s vetting process. USCIS has not published acceptance rates for refugees from other countries at this time, but the Department of State has said the number of denials on terror-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG) of Syrian refugees are down compared to past refugee groups.
“With the Syrians, we have not seen that many cases go on TRIG holds,” a State Department official said in a September briefing, attributing the lower number to “extraordinarily cautious” U.N. referrals that take into account the unusual decision by Obama to take in refugees from an ongoing conflict. Typically refugees are resettled in the U.S. only after the conflict has passed.
Leading Republicans and security experts have criticized the vetting process, saying there’s no way to adequately vet refugees from countries like Syria, and the House passed a bill demanding the Obama administration to provide a written guarantee that every refugee admitted poses no threat to the United States.
Once applicants are referred to the U.S. for resettlement, their names are run through State and Department of Justice (DOJ) databases and are then interviewed in person about their story. In some cases officials also review the applicant social media presence.
But the lack of a U.S. ground presence in Syria and Iraq and the disarray in those countries make it almost impossible to verify individual’s identities or their stories, and also limits the reach of the databases. Applicants are only flagged if they’re already in the system for terror or crime related suspicions or convictions. And ultimately, U.S. officials can hardly be expected to know whether applicants have been radicalized or will become radicalized once they’ve resettled in the country.
Speaking to those criticisms, Rodriguez told reporters that “literally hundreds” of individuals from Syria have been denied because of something found in the databases, and others put on hold because of “credibility concerns” that came up during the interview process.
“We are very confident that we will welcome at least 10,000 refugees from Syria by the end of this fiscal year,” Anne Richard, Asst. Secretary of State at the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, explained on the call with reporters. “Monthly totals have climbed from low numbers of refugees admitted in the first half of the year to higher numbers recently.”
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