WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Feb. 5, the Obama Administration announced it would begin easing up on certain restrictions for refugees seeking asylum in the United States. This is in large part due to the crisis surrounding the refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, but this will be important for matters in a number of other areas as well. Considering the lack of progress in the Geneva peace talks, this is seen as one way that the administration can alleviate the situation.
According to the Justice Department, the U.S. admitted 12,000 refugees out of the 44,000 who applied for asylum in 2012. Human rights groups have been pushing the U.S. to increase that number, hoping for the U.S. to admit at least 15,000 Syrians this year as the nation’s neighbors struggle under the strain of refugees. However, until 2014, laws put in place following the Sept. 11 attacks had restricted the nation’s refugee policy.
The Obama Administration has said it will excuse refugees that are not connected to terrorism, yet have provided insignificant or inadvertent support to terrorist groups. The untenable situation in places like Syria has lead many asylum seekers to deal with terrorist groups in hopes of protection or safe passage. The old policy, “resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being turned from the (U.S.) for actions so tangential and minimal that no person would consider them supporters of terrorist activities,” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said.
The President has acknowledged these concerns in this new policy decision in efforts to bring down the large number of people who had been turned away. This policy decision comes after recent United Nations statistics have placed the number of children dead due to the Syrian conflict at 10,000, with many more potentially uncounted or suffering in other ways. With more than 50% of the Syrian refugees counted as children, these statistics have proven an impetus for the U.S. to make this decision.
This policy change comes, moreover, as immigration reform has stalled in the House of Representatives with and it does not look like these disputes will be settled in the near future. There has, furthermore, been criticism of the Obama Administration from different groups for not only their lack of refugee support, but also for seemingly loose enforcement of current immigration law. The decision to change the refugee policy could allow more ammunition for those critics.
The decision to make a change and the political repercussions of the decision illustrates just how difficult it is to advance humanitarian aid in this Washington climate. While the step taken by the Obama Administration is an important one to foreign aid, there needs to be more movement from the government, particularly concerning the Syrian refugee situation.
This is especially true since countries like Germany and Sweden have been far outpacing the U.S. in taking in these refugees. This is a very important issue not only concerning Syria, but the stability of the Middle East as a whole, and could go a long way in providing some needed relief for a nation desperately searching for some.
– Eric Gustafsson