Reader Post: The US and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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syrian refugeesAmid the controversy of our current immigration crisis, the United States is making preparations for the first group of Syrian immigrants. The arrival will not likely come for several months while potential immigrants are vetted for identification, documentation, immunizations and health assessments. Giving congress little time to locate housing and prepare communities for their arrival.

In the meantime, charitable organizations and humanitarian groups have stepped up to support the crisis. Particularly since the photo of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi circulated, tugging at the heart-strings of many. Donations are coming in from all over the globe and European countries, primarily Jordan, Pakistan, and Lebanon, are temporarily taking in the refugees until a more permanent residence can be obtained. To date, according to the State Department, the US has taken in approximately 1500 will take approximately 10,000 refugees during the 2016 fiscal year.

The process of vetting immigrants is lengthy. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, it can take up to two years from the time a refugee is referred to the US to get approval and finally arrive. Each Immigrant’s name is run through a series of government and international databases such as Homeland Security and FBI. According to State Department records, the first significant wave of Syrian immigrants in the United States began arriving in the 1880s. Currently Syrians account for approximately eight percent of the one million immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa currently living in the United States.



According to Time Magazine, since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in March, 2011, 1,584 refugees have been relocated in the U.S. The majority of whom have been placed in Texas, California, Michigan, Illinois, Arizona and Florida. Thirty other states have absorbed the rest, according to numbers compiled by the State Department. Several of these states already have small Syrian communities and likely where more refugees will be settled. Making the transition easier due to language, schools and other resources that are already in place.

Numerous factors go into where refugees are moved, says Sarah Margon, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch. Negotiations take place between the federal government and non-governmental organizations (Ngo) called VOLAGs (voluntary agencies), which contract with the State Department. The NGOs assist in determining which communities are right for relocation based on factors like housing availability. Refugees may also have family already in the US and can be placed with or near them. Locally, churches and other charitable & humanitarian groups help newcomers find housing, assist in enrolling children in school, help get work permits and Social Security cards, and refer them to classes in English as a second language. Also health care providers, law enforcement, schools and other entities are notified that refugees are arriving so they can prepare.

The total number of refugees is determined by the President on an annual basis. It’s important to note that the final number is a ceiling or maximum and not necessarily the number that will be admitted to the US. One concern is that militant groups such as ISIS will use this as an opportunity to gain entry to the US. It’s a concern that has been voiced by U.S. officials and lawmakers to include House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Representative Michael McCaul of Texas. “From a national security standpoint, I take ISIS it’s at its word when they said, in their own words, that ‘We’ll always use and exploit the refugee crisis to infiltrate the west,’” he told ABC television.

In 1924 the U.S. set annual quotas for immigrants according to nationality. During the 1930s there were pleas to raise immigration numbers for the Jewish refugees who were desperate to flee Germany. After many years and extensive lobbying the Jews were allowed entry to the US three years after WWII ended. Also in 1975, after the fall of Saigon when we accepted the first of three waves of Vietnamese refugees. Approximately 125,000 were admitted.

According to the US Citizens & Immigration Services (USCIS) website, to be admitted in the US as a refugee you must first meet the legal definition: Refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Robb MacDonald is a criminal lawyer based out of Toronto, Canada.

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