Obama Seeks to Admit 10,000 Syrian Refugees to U.S. Next Year

US President Barack Obama meets with veterans and Gold Star Mothers to discuss the Iran nuclear deal on September 10, 2015 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama wants to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. over the next year as waves of migrants fleeing turmoil in the Middle East flood into Europe.

The U.S. will accept about 1,500 refugees from Syria in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said increasing the number admitted, coupled with financial aid for those waiting in camps, would help meet an "urgent humanitarian need" stemming from the Syrian civil war.

"We know the scale of this problem," Earnest said. "It’s significant."

The thousands of Syrians fleeing intensified combat today face a long road before they could be admitted to the United States. Refugees must undergo a 12-to-18-month security screening, meaning new applicants wouldn’t likely be able to enter the country before 2017.

Earnest said that while the U.S. won’t cut corners on security screening, there are enough Syrians with refugee applications already pending to meet the administration’s fiscal 2016 goal.

Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Wednesday that the administration anticipated increasing a broader U.S. cap on refugees to 75,000 from 70,000 in the next fiscal year. The same day, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a conference that the U.S. is concerned terrorists may hide in the refugee flow to infiltrate Europe or the U.S.

Wary Congress

Although the plight of the Syrians has drawn sympathy in the U.S., the prospect of increasing refugee intake has been met by wariness in Congress.

“The Obama administration must prove to the American people that it will take the necessary precautions to ensure that national security is a top priority, especially at a time when ruthless terrorist groups like ISIS are committed to finding ways to enter the United States and harm Americans," Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released Wednesday.

ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State, the militant group that has taken control of swaths of Syria and Iraq and is the target of a bombing campaign by the U.S. and allied nations.

Increasing the total refugees allowed into the U.S. by 5,000 would barely dent the human tide seeking asylum in Europe. Germany has said it has accepted 218,000 refugees in 2015, and expects to welcome as many as 800,000, while Sweden admitted 81,000 refugees in 2014. Kerry spoke Wednesday with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Raising the overall U.S. cap by just 5,000 while dramatically increasing the number of Syrians granted asylum also may squeeze out those seeking to enter the country from other war zones. Burma, Iraq and Somalia had the largest numbers of refugees relocated to the U.S. in recent years, according to the State Department.

The move would likely draw more criticism from Congress if the White House doesn’t attempt to secure lawmakers’ approval for the changes.

Grassley said that during his discussion with Kerry, the Secretary of State said the administration was considering whether a provision under current law allows it to unilaterally raise refugee caps in the event of an emergency.

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