8,000 Syrian Refugees Enter U.S. as Obama Looks to Meet Goal

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Refugees push each other as they wait for tents as Syrians fleeing the embattled city of Aleppo wait on Feb. 6, 2016, in Bab al-Salama, near the city of Azaz, northern Syria.

Photographer: BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
  • About 7 percent of applications were denied, official says
  • Trump says refugees could be ‘Trojan horse’ for terrorists

The Obama administration expects to hit its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. by the end of September, officials said Friday.

"We can now say we have welcomed 8,000 Syrian refugees so far this year and we are very confident we will welcome at least 10,000 refugees from Syria by the end of this fiscal year," Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said in a conference call with reporters.

Delivery on the president’s pledge to admit 10,000 refugees reflects a dramatic increase in admissions in recent weeks. In the first six months after President Barack Obama’s announcement of the goal last Sept. 10, only about 1,200 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. The government has denied about 7 percent of applications under its Syrian refugee program, with another 13 percent held up by "outstanding concerns," said Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The pace of admissions was initially hampered by an extensive, months-long screening process intended to prevent anyone with links to terrorist networks or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime from entering the country.

Still, top Republicans -- led by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump -- have warned that the U.S. risks allowing terrorists to slip into the country as part of the program. Critics of the effort point to recent terrorist attacks, including the killing of a French priest and a bombing at a German music festival, as evidence of the danger posed by refugees.

Trump once proposed a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the U.S.; after drawing bipartisan criticism, he subsequently proposed blocking immigration from countries with a "proven history" of terrorism. Other than Syria, he has not specified what countries would meet that definition.

“We’re letting people come in from terrorist nations that shouldn’t be allowed,” Trump said Thursday at a rally in Portland, Maine. “This could be the great Trojan horse of all time.”

The White House has said that the U.S. focuses its refugee admissions on individuals with existing links to America, as well as women and children facing persecution or in desperate need of medical care. The screening process averages 12 to 18 months and includes biometric data and reviews by multiple law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Reaching the goal will bolster Obama as he seeks to corral additional support for refugees at a Sept. 20 summit he is hosting at the United Nations. Obama wants to persuade other countries to increase global financing for refugees by 30 percent, double the amount spent to resettle refugees, and increase the number of refugees in school and in work by 1 million, according to the White House.

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