A discrepancy in statistics provided by the Department of Homeland Security has led an attorney for a Washington-based legal group to question whether administration officials are waiving Syrians into the United States by other means.
Ian Smith, of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, obtained the data through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It shows that U.S. officials as of Jan. 25 had interviewed 9,800 refugee applicants since fiscal year 2014. That is nearly twice as many people as the combined number of approvals (4,774) and denials (417) during that time.
“The discrepancy is very, very large, and they go back quite a ways.”
Smith speculated that the Obama administration is using “humanitarian parole” to admit Syrians who do not meet the eligibility requirements for refugees. That is the same method by which the Obama administration has allowed entry to the unaccompanied minors who have arrived en masse at the U.S.-Mexican border over the past few years.
“I really think that’s the case, because that’s what we’ve been seeing with the Central American Minors programs,” Smith said.
Daniel Cosgrove, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman, told LifeZette that there are other outcomes beyond approval and denial that account for the discrepancy.
“Following the USCIS interview, cases may be approved, denied, placed on hold for a variety of reasons (including national security concerns and concerns related to the applicant’s credibility), or administratively closed,” he wrote in an email. “It frequently occurs that a case that is interviewed by DHS in one fiscal year carries over to a following fiscal year for final resolution.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said it takes time review an application for refugee resettlement and make a determination. She said it is plausible that U.S. authorities simply had not made a determination in a large number of cases.
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“It can take some time before that’s done,” she said. “That would be a benign explanation.”
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Smith said he finds it hard to believe pending cases make up such a high percentage of applicants interviewed.
“The discrepancy is very, very large, and they go back quite a ways,” he said.
President Obama committed last year to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), up from fewer than 2,000. The total cap on refugees is rising form 70,000 to 85,000. The president maintains that the United States needs to do its part to alleviate a humanitarian crisis sparked by a civil war in Syria that now is in its fifth year.
Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard told reporters this month that the United States so far this fiscal year has resettled 8,000 Syrians and is on track to reach 10,000, and possibly more, by Sept. 30. Nayla Rush, a Center for Immigration Studies senior researcher who has closely tracked the issue, said Obama wants to hit the target by the time he hosts a refugee summit in New York Sept. 20.
“They are going to be here, because the president has said it, and he’s keeping his word,” she said.
Rush said she does not believe Obama is using parole powers to admit Syrians.
“I don’t think they need it,” she said, noting that more than enough applicants will qualify under criteria set by the United Nations and U.S. law.
Rush said she believes some Syrians will end up coming through other ways, however. She pointed to a conference in February in which Beth Ferris, a Georgetown University professor and humanitarian refugee policy adviser to the United Nations secretary-general, said there are “alternative safe pathways” that could inflate the number of fleeing Syrians entering America to 200,000. Possibilities include giving scholarships and extending the ability of Syrian-Americans to sponsor relatives beyond their immediate family members to include aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
In addition, some 8,000 non-refugees from Syria who are already in the United States — both legally and illegally — have been allowed to remain under a program called Temporary Protected Status. The Department of Homeland Security recently renewed that status for another year.
To accomplish its goal of accepting 10,000 refugees, the United States launched a “surge program” that included opening a “temporary processing center” in Amman, Jordan. That condensed the process from 18 months to just three months. The United Nations selects applicants and forwards them to U.S. officials. The acceptance rate is high.
“Everything is taken care of, and then the DHS people go there and speak to them, and it’s a done deal, unless they find something,” she said.
Rush questioned how thorough security checks can be because of the difficulty checking information sources within the hostile and collapsing Syrian government — and because of the volume, which included 12,000 interviews in just three months at one point this year.
“How meticulous can you be?” she said.