WASHINGTON -- Twenty-seven Democratic senators signed a letter Monday calling for more funding to help Syrian refugees, both abroad and by resettling them in the United States.
The senators, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), sent the letter to Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee that deals with foreign operations.
The message comes as officials debate how to help the millions of Syrians forced out of their homes, many of whom have risked their lives to make it out of the country. The U.S. has already contributed about $4 billion in humanitarian aid and pledged to give $419 million more. But while overall refugee admission rates in the U.S. have historically been higher than other nations, a plan to admit 10,000 Syrians next year is far lower than the figure that some other countries have committed to.
The letter does not specify how much funding should be devoted to the crisis, although Murphy called last month for at least $500 million in additional funding. It also does not specify an exact number of refugees to be admitted. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the senators who signed the letter, recently proposed that the U.S. admit 100,000 Syrians and 100,000 other refugees this fiscal year.
"While acknowledging the United States is the largest contributor to the global humanitarian response, we can and must do more to address the plight of Syrian refugees," the letter reads.
The senators note that the U.S. has previously admitted large numbers of refugees amid foreign conflicts, such as the Balkan Wars and Vietnam War. They wrote that "compared with these historic numbers, we can do better than 10,000 slots for Syrian families."
Some Republicans oppose admitting more Syrian refugees because they say they could be terrorists or members of the Islamic State. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said Monday it would be the "height of foolishness" to admit more "Syrian Muslims" into the U.S.
The Democratic senators wrote in their letter that all applicants for refugee status should continue to undergo extensive background checks."The brutality and callousness of ISIL and the Assad regime are fully responsible for this humanitarian crisis. Ultimately the Syrian civil war must end," the letter reads. "But until that time, we can take the measures proposed above to have an immediate, yet lasting, impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians -- including those who will be needed to rebuild their country."
Read the letter, sent to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Vice Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), as well as to Senate Foreign Relations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.):
Dear Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, Subcommittee Chairman Graham, and Subcommittee Ranking Member Leahy:
Since the disturbing image of a 3-year old Syrian refugee captured the attention of the American people, thousands more children have been forced to flee with their families to escape the horrific violence of the Syrian civil war. The United States has always been a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution and violence, and we cannot simply sit on the sidelines as this humanitarian disaster continues to unfold.
While acknowledging the United States is the largest contributor to the global humanitarian response, we can and must do more to address the plight of Syrian refugees. We therefore urge the Appropriations Committee to immediately consider emergency funding for a two-pronged strategy to provide immediate humanitarian relief and increase the capacity for refugee admissions to the United States. We welcome Secretary Kerry’s announcement that the United States will raise the overall cap on refugee admissions from 70,000 to 100,000 over the next two years, but the announcement will be meaningful only if Congress provides the necessary resources.
First, we support additional assistance to the organizations aiding Syrian refugees in the region. The World Food Program has once again run out of money to feed millions of refugees who live outside the camps, and the UNHCR appeal for 2015 is still only 37% funded. UNHCR and implementing partners such as Save the Children, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, and other local NGO’s are working around the clock to provide food, shelter, medical care and education to refugee families, but these basic services are at dire risk unless the United States and our partners fill the funding gaps.
Second, we support funding to significantly increase the number of refugees screened and admitted into the United States, with priority given to vulnerable populations such as religious minorities, women with children, and victims of torture. The United States has a long tradition of providing safe haven to refugees fleeing from tyranny, violence and persecution. We welcomed approximately 200,000 refugees from the Balkan Wars, 700,000 refugees from Cuba, and more than 700,000 refugees from Vietnam. Compared with these historic numbers, we can do better than 10,000 slots for Syrian families. As always, security considerations remain paramount. All refugee applicants must continue to undergo extensive background checks and vetting of their biographic and biometric data against a broad array of U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism databases.
The brutality and callousness of ISIL and the Assad regime are fully responsible for this humanitarian crisis. Ultimately the Syrian civil war must end. But until that time, we can take the measures proposed above to have an immediate, yet lasting, impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians – including those who will be needed to rebuild their country.
Thank you for our consideration. We look forward to working with you to assert American leadership in addressing this humanitarian crisis.
Along with Murphy, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) signed the letter.
This article has been updated to include that Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) also signed the letter