Posted by on January 09, 2014 in Blog

Ninety. That’s the number of Syrian Refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. since the start of the Syrian conflict. With nearly 2.5 million Syrians - of which 1.1 million are children - now displaced, living in limbo, and facing deplorable conditions in and around refugee camps throughout Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, 90 is far too small a number. The U.S. has a longstanding history of refugee resettlement, and this crisis, which the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNCHR) describes as the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994requires more attention and better policy, especially with regard to refugee resettlement. The U.S. is leading in other ways, though. We are the single largest donor of food aid, thus far contributing $1.3 billion in assistance to Syrians. We can, however, also lead on refugee resettlement. And, after a hearing convened this Tuesday by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, it’s clear that a bipartisan group of Senators agree.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), were all present at the hearing and unanimously expressed support for opening up the U.S. to more Syrian Refugees.

During opening remarks, Sen. Durbin introduced three Syrian refugees who are currently in the United States. Their stories are disturbing and shed light on the perseverance of a people who have suffered more than enough. The stories of these three individuals showed that among those who need asylum are journalists, scholars, and families who deserve a chance to live productive lives.

After opening remarks from Sen. Durbin in which the Chairman said among other things that the U.S. had a “a moral obligation to assist Syrian Refugees,” Sen. Ted Cruz, who cited his father’s flight from Cuba, stated the crisis "demands the attention of the United States" and "threatens the stability of our key allies." The economy and stability of Jordan, Turkey, and most notably Lebanon are threatened by a massive influx of Syrian refugees. About a quarter of Lebanon’s population are refugees. Therefore, as noted by Senator Cruz and Senator Durbin at the hearing, in addition to the moral obligations we face as a result of the refugee crisis, we also have a strategic interest in finding a way to ameliorate the situation for some Syrian refugees and hopefully encourage other nations to do the same. Rather comically, Senator Lindsey Graham quipped toward the end of the hearing that despite their obvious differences on comprehensive Immigration Reform, he thought there could be some bipartisan consensus on expediting the resettlement process for some Syrian refugees. Sen. Klobuchar spoke at length about her state’s refugee population saying “We see these refugees as part of the fabric of our state and of our culture” and expressed staunch support for developing a policy that would “speed up some of these asylum applications."

It remains somewhat unclear what the exact process is for determining who is granted asylum. Procedurally, the process is complicated and many of the restrictions on who is granted asylum are designed to prevent potential national security threats from entering the country. During her testimony, however, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department, Anne C. Richard said "I don't want Americans to equate refugees with terrorists. They're not." Sec. Richard said she doesn’t expect any significant amount of Syrian refugees to be admitted into the U.S. this year. Although Tuesday’s hearing is certainly an important step in fomenting what should be a national conversation resulting in better policy toward refugee resettlement, it’s up to our community to keep this issue on the table in Washington and to keep telling the stories of Syrian refugees who need our help. We thank Senator Durbin for his leadership on this issue. 

Watch the hearing.

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