US to hit Syrian refugee target, despite backlash

US to hit Syrian refugee target, despite backlash
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The Obama administration will hit its target for bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States on Monday, a top official said, clearing a key self-imposed benchmark more than a month before a deadline.


“Our 10,000th Syrian refugee will arrive this afternoon,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said in a statement on Monday. “On behalf of the president and his administration, I extend the warmest of welcomes to each and every one of our Syrian arrivals, as well as the many other refugees resettled this year from all over the world.”

The milestone, which follows an initially slow-moving intake of refugees early on in the fiscal year, comes amid heightened opposition from congressional Republicans and GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE.

Trump has repeatedly hammered the Obama administration over its call last summer to escalate the number of refugees allowed into the U.S., warning that the policy will weaken anti-terror defenses.

“A lot of those people are ISIS,” the real estate mogul said earlier this summer, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“They are letting tens of thousands of people come in from Syria, and nobody knows who these people are.”

The administration's policy remains unpopular in the U.S., likely due to concerns about security. Just 36 percent of American voters told pollsters earlier this month that they supported allowing any refugees from Syria into the country.

The administration maintains that refugees are among the most heavily vetted migrants coming in to the U.S., due to the layers of security screenings by intelligence agencies. More than three-quarters of those being earmarked for the U.S. are women and children, officials note.

"Refugees are the most thoroughly screened category of travelers to the United States, and Syrian refugees are subject to even greater scrutiny," U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells said on Sunday, according to The Associated Press.

Yet FBI Director James Comey has acknowledged that there are “gaps” in the U.S.’s ability to adequately screen the migrants, due to lack of information from war-torn Syria. And critics of the administration sounded an alarm in January, when two Iraqi refugees who came to the U.S. in 2012 and 2009 were arrested for offering support to ISIS.

More than 4.8 million people have fled the civil war in Syria since it began five years ago, many of them into the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed in the violence, which shows little signs of stopping.

Last summer, as the globe was fixated on scenes of desperate migrants fleeing over the Mediterranean Sea in shoddy vessels, the White House announced that the U.S. would accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria and increase the total intake of refugees to 85,000 by the end of the fiscal year in September. While a significant increase from the past, the number appears paltry compared to the tens of millions of migrants who have fled to Syria’s neighbors or the hundreds of thousands who have decamped to Europe.

“Millions have been displaced by the violence in the region, but this decision still represented a six-fold increase from the prior year, and was a meaningful step that we hope to build upon,” Rice said on Monday.

Still, refugee aid groups and some Democratic lawmakers have extolled the administration to go further, and not abandon the push now that the new goal has been reached.

The 10,000 Syrian refugees ought to be “a floor and not a ceiling,” David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement on Monday. The organization on Monday is resettling two Syrian refugees in the San Diego area as part of the final push to 10,000.

The initiative got off to a slow start last year, initially raising questions about whether the target could be met. But a recent upswing in admittance has put the country on target to meet its goal this week.

As of Monday morning, a total of 9,902 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S. this fiscal year, according to the State Department’s figures.

--This report was updated at 2:31 p.m.