POLITICS

A Top Democratic Senator Wants The U.S. To Take In 100,000 Syrian Refugees

Dick Durbin is the first senator to call for that large an increase.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. should take in 100,000 Syrian refugees next fiscal year, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday, making him the first senator to call on the president to increase his proposal for admissions tenfold.

"I think it is necessary in light of this humanitarian crisis," the second-ranking Democrat told The Huffington Post after announcing on the Senate floor his support for increasing admissions to that figure. "When Germany stepped forward and said they'd take 800,000, I think it was a reminder that the scope of this problem far exceeds any numbers that we've considered to date." 

Millions of Syrians have fled their homes since the beginning of the conflict there in 2011, and although the U.S. put $4 billion into humanitarian aid, the number of people resettled here pales in comparison to those taken in by other nations. The White House announced last week that it aims to bring in 10,000 Syrians next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Durbin is now joining the call put forward by refugee groups and 72 House Democrats to bring that number up to 100,000.

"It was a move in the right direction, but a modest move," Durbin said of the White House proposal. "I think we can do better." 

Durbin had previously suggested the U.S. accept 65,000 Syrian refugees, as recently as Monday in a joint op-ed with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for CNN.

Other Democrats are also calling for the U.S. to up its commitment to take in Syrian refugees. Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley sent a letter to the president on Tuesday asking him to admit 65,000 Syrians by 2017. Others have said something should be done without offering a specific figure.

Admitting 100,000 Syrians would be a massive increase, since refugee admission targets were set at 70,000 per year for the past few fiscal years. Before being admitted into the country, refugees go through an extensive security check and a health screening. Because of the number of people and the time-intensive process, it typically takes 18 to 24 months from when they are referred to the U.S. by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for them to arrive in the country.

It's also expensive. Increasing the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. would require more money, Durbin acknowledged.

"There's talk among my colleagues about a supplemental appropriation, because all of these people have to be carefully vetted. I'm for that," he said. "But let's make a commitment here to do something significant."

There is some opposition to upping the number of refugees the U.S. admits. Many Republicans say it could not be done without a risk to homeland security, arguing refugees could go on to be terrorists, or could be terrorists using the system to get into the U.S.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a critic of President Barack Obama's policies on Syria, told reporters on Tuesday that he is concerned about whether people will be adequately vetted, because it's possible Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could encourage his men to pose as refugees.

"If I were Baghdadi, I'd tell a few of my young men to go ahead and mingle in and get to the United States and we'll talk to you soon," he said. "I'm very worried about the possibility of that infiltration."

Some, such as GOP presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said Americans should also be skeptical that refugees actually need our help.

"Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we've got cable TV?" Huckabee said at an event this weekend, according to The Washington Post. "I don't meant to be trite. I'm just saying: We don't know."