To start, the U.S. needs to identify who is qualified to come into the country.
What does it mean to be a refugee? And how does one qualify to come to the United States?
As explained by the United Nations refugee agency, refugees “have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.” A report by the agency puts the number of people forcibly displaced around the world at nearly 60 million at the end of 2014—an increase from around 51 million a year earlier.
Why the spike? The staggering numbers are attributed to several conflicts, above all the war in Syria. In fact, out of the more than 4 million registered Syrian refugees, just 18,000 have been referred by the United Nations refugee agency for “possible settlement in the United States,” which has had a resettlement program in place since 1975. Since then, the U.S. has admitted more than 3 million refugees.
The criteria for U.S. admittance includes meeting the definition of a “refugee” per the government, as well as being “among those refugees determined by the President to be of special humanitarian concern in the United States; not be firmly resettled in any third country; be otherwise admissible under U.S. laws.”
There are grounds that can exclude a refugee from coming to the United States, too, such as health issues, criminal activity, and other security matters like espionage and terrorist activity. Though cases often vary, the process can take up to 18 months.
In fiscal year 2016, the United States will admit 85,000 refugees from Near East and South Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin American and the Caribbean. Of that number, at least 10,000 will be from Syria.
That’s still a considerable number of refugees being admitted into the U.S. Perhaps too many. Instead, host countries in the region should take in the majority.
How does the United States compare with other countries around the world in the sheer number of refugees admitted? Last year, the White House pledged to receive at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon have taken in many of the registered Syrian refugees. And the United Kingdom has committed to accepting 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced in September that the U.S. plans to accept 100,000 refugees from around the world annually by 2017, up from 85,000 in 2016. While that is a jump in admissions, it pales in comparison with other moments in U.S. history. Take 1980, for example, when admissions reached more than 200,000. At that time, the Refugee Act of 1980 standardized “resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the United States.”
Resettlement quickly became a controversial topic in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks last year, which sparked new concerns about Syrian refugees and national security. The House passed a bill in November aimed at implementing stricter regulations for the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq; the Senate blocked the bill.