US' refugee intake numbers fall short of Obama's target

Syrian refugee children play as they wait with their families to register their information at the US processing centre for Syrian refugees.
Syrian refugee children play as they wait with their families to register their information at the US processing centre for Syrian refugees.PHOTO: REUTERS

Critics blame complex vetting, deportation of illegals from south

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama invited a Syrian refugee to this year's State of the Union address, and he has spoken passionately about embracing refugees as a core American value.

But nearly eight months into an effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the US, Mr Obama's administration has admitted just over 2,500.

And as his administration prepares for a new round of deportations of Central Americans, including many women and children pleading for humanitarian protection, the President is criticised by allies in Congress and advocacy groups about the treatment of migrants.

They say his lofty message about the need to welcome those who come to the US seeking protection has not been matched by action.

"Given that we have resettled so few refugees and we are employing a deterrence strategy to refugees on our southern border, I wouldn't think we would be giving advice to any other nations about doing better," said Mr Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Centre for Migration Studies.

Mr Obama has spoken out against anti-immigrant sentiment, arguing that Republicans, particularly Mr Donald Trump, are playing on misplaced fears about terrorism.

He has instructed his top advisers that they must not fall short of meeting his goal to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees by the later half of this year. But complex security checks and vetting procedures have made the target difficult to reach.

And election-year politics - 47 House Democrats joined Republicans last November in voting for tightening the screening process - makes it impossible to quickly take in substantially more Syrians by removing any of the tough vetting procedures.

The Central American migrants pose a different but no less challenging problem. Individuals who enter the US illegally do not necessarily qualify as refugees, although a growing proportion of Central Americans claim asylum, asserting that they are seeking refuge from violence and mortal threats in their home countries.

While administration officials say they are working to address the root causes of the migration, their primary response has been to try to deter Central Americans from making the dangerous journey to the US. One method is to deport those whose asylum claims have been rejected. Humanitarian organisations denounce the approach.

"If this situation was playing out far from our borders, our government would be funding a humanitarian response and demanding that other countries abide by their international obligations," said Ms Anna Greene, the director of policy and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee.

The administration argues that it is doing more than most - the US admits more refugees overall than any other country.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'US' refugee intake numbers fall short of Obama's target'. Print Edition | Subscribe