Administration officials said Friday that the 10,000 Syrian refugees President Obama wants to welcome this fiscal year is a floor, not a ceiling, and they can go even higher than that total.
“We can now say that we’ve welcomed 8,000 Syrian refugees so far this year and we are very confident we will welcome at least 10,000,” Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard told reporters in updating the flow.
At today’s pace, more than 12,000 refugees could be admitted by the end of September, which marks the end of the fiscal year.
Those are part of the 85,000 total refugees from around the world that Mr. Obama has said he can accept.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez said he’s confident his officers can screen out potential terrorists and other bad actors even without access to the tools Mr. Comey said are important.
Mr. Rodriguez said they query U.S. government databases to see if there’s any derogatory information about an applicant, and said his officers do review the social media presence of “some” Syrian applicants.
Mr. Rodriguez said those checks have blocked “literally hundreds” of Syrians from gaining access. He said they approved 80 percent of applicants, have denied 7 percent, and have the other 13 percent on hold.
Top administration security experts, including FBI Director James Comey, had previously sounded warnings about Syrian refugees, saying that while they can query U.S. databases, they don’t have access to databases in Syria, nor do they have on-the-ground access needed for a more complete picture.
The increase in Syrian refugees has been controversial, particularly after some refugees were implicated in terrorist attacks in Europe over the last year. In addition, one man admitted as an Iraqi refugee, but who came from Syria, was charged in the U.S. earlier this year with supporting terrorists.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican, warned this week that as the Islamic State loses ground in the Middle East, it’s likely to send more operatives to conduct attacks in Europe and the U.S. — and he said that should cause the U.S. to shut down its Syrian refugee pipeline.
“We need to stop accepting Syrian refugees as a matter of national security,” he said in a letter to Mr. Obama.
The administration started off the fiscal year slowly, admitting only 187 Syrian refugees in October 2015. Facing the prospect of missing Mr. Obama’s goal, the administration surged resources and in July brought in nearly 2,500.
More than 99 percent of the Syrian refugees are Muslim — a fact that has drawn criticism from some in Congress who say the Christian minority in Syria deserves more protection.