US welcomes its 10,000th Syrian refugee ahead of schedule

Story highlights

The influx of Syrian refugees has been a major political flashpoint over the past year

State Department officials have stood by the rigor of their vetting process

Washington CNN  — 

The Obama administration will reach its target Monday of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by October 1, National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced in a statement.

Rice said that the final Syrian refugee to hit this target would be arriving Monday afternoon, more than a month ahead of schedule.

“On behalf of the President and his Administration, I extend the warmest of welcomes to each and every one of our Syrian arrivals, as well as the many other refugees resettled this year from all over the world,” Rice said.

Rice acknowledged that there was much more work to be done in the region but called the move a “meaningful step that we hope to build upon.”

“While refugee admissions are only a small part of our broader humanitarian efforts in Syria and the region, the President understood the important message this decision would send, not just to the Syrian people but to the broader international community,” Rice said.

The US ambassador to Jordan, Alice Wells, Sunday described the resettlement numbers as “a floor, not a ceiling.” America had previously pledged to bring at least 10,000 individuals from the war-torn country during the current fiscal year, which ends next month.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, used similar language Monday in welcoming the American milestone, adding that he hopes it is a prod to further action.

“IRC encourages the White House to consider this 10,000 milestone ‘a floor and not a ceiling,’” he said. “The achievement of the 10,000 target proves what is possible, and there remains an urgent need to further strengthen US leadership in resettling refugee families – with appropriate vetting – fleeing violence and war.”

He urged the Obama administration to up its acceptance rate to 140,000 refugees in 2017.

The influx of Syrian refugees, however, has been a major domestic political flashpoint over the past year. That could prove an obstacle to any significant increase in the program.

Critics of the resettlement effort – including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump – have long expressed concern about the potential for ISIS or other terrorist groups to exploit refugee flows to reach the West.

Wells maintained that America’s absorption of Syrians did not come at the cost of the country’s rigorous screening processes.

“The United States government is deeply committed to safeguarding the American public, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” Wells said. “We do not believe these goals are mutually exclusive.”

The US is the largest single donor to the Syrian crisis response, she said, adding that the country’s humanitarian assistance in Syria and the region has reached “nearly $5.6 billion so far, including nearly $795 million for Jordan since … 2012.”

It is not a surprise the 10,000 number has been met. CNN reported 10 days ago the administration was expected to mark the milestone of meeting that number within the coming weeks.

At that time, a State Department official said that the administration can – and likely will – accept more than 10,000 applicants and admissions are expected to continue at their current pace for the remaining six weeks.

President Barack Obama set the goal last fall as the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East reached a critical mass last summer, and leaders in the international community were calling on the US and other world powers to do more to help the growing displaced population.

Initially, there were concerns about the administration’s ability to meet the new target.

The US had only admitted about 1,900 refugees in the first four years of the conflict, and was facing a backlog of UN case referrals.

But admissions spiked dramatically starting in May, after the US beefed up staffing at key processing locations in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, accelerating the security vetting and interview process for applicants.

While meeting the target is likely to be touted as a major achievement for the administration, not everyone is happy about the accomplishment.

State Department officials have stood by the rigor of their vetting process, however, insisting refugees are the most thoroughly screened group of travelers to the US.