Obama vows to 'speed up' efforts to admit Syrian refugees

Obama vows to 'speed up' efforts to admit Syrian refugees

President Obama on Thursday vowed that his administration would quicken its intake of Syrian refugees to reach the goal of allowing in 10,000 migrants that he set last year.

“Administratively, I think now we have the process to speed it up,” Obama said in a surprise appearance during the daily White House press briefing.  

“There may be efforts on the part of Congress to try to block us,” he added. “But our goal is to continue to try to make the case to Congress and the American people that this is the right thing to do.”

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“We believe that we can hit those marks before the end of the year.”

The administration is currently far behind the president’s goal of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. by the end of fiscal year 2016 in October. Obama set the goal last summer, amid an intensifying battle over the U.S.'s refugee policy.

As of Thursday, just 1,703 refugees had come to the U.S. from Syria, according to data from the State Department.

The U.S. has made a concerted effort to speed up the process in recent months, with a surge of manpower to the Middle East, and especially Jordan, to try and interview and process more applicants. But so far, the results have been slow in coming.

“We’re going to keep on pushing,” Obama said on Thursday. “And part of what has made this challenging is that we want to make sure that we can, as much as possible, provide the American people an assurance that everybody here has been vetted at a very high standard.”

Concerns about the safety of the migrants escalated rapidly last year, following warnings from prominent Republicans that the refugee stream could provide a pathway for extremists to enter the country. Those fears mounted following the November terror attack in Paris, where some attackers are believed to have entered the country via migrant routes. All of the known Paris attackers were European nationals.

Lawmakers in Congress attempted to halt the intake of Syrian refugees, but those efforts have so far failed to reach the president's desk.

The civil war in Syria is largely responsible for what has been described as the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Neighboring countries have been overwhelmed with millions of refugees, whose path has stretched from the Middle East through Europe.

Obama’s pledge to take in 10,000 refugees would represent just a sliver of the numbers that have entered major European nations.

“It’s important for us to send a signal around the world that we care about these folks,” Obama said on Thursday.

The U.S. is also pushing for a conference around global migrants to be included at the margins of this year’s United Nations General Assembly meeting, he added.