House Democrats are calling on the Obama administration to dramatically increase the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the US. The White House has already pledged to let in 10,000 refugees over the next year, but that is being called insufficient.
“It is our moral duty, as a nation founded on the principles of equality and freedom, to do what we can to assist our brethren who are in desperate turmoil, and are searching for the slightest gesture of goodwill,” wrote 72 Democrats from the US House of Representatives in a letter to the administration on Friday, according to the Hill.
Lawmakers said the country could easily support the resettlement of as many as 130,000 Syrian refugees, a figure 10 times that proposed by the White House earlier this week.
The letter was spearheaded by Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island).
“The United States is home to 320 million people,” lawmakers wrote. “Allowing an additional 130,000 refugees into our country would make up less than a quarter of one percent of our population.”
The Obama administration has been sharply criticized by the EU on the relatively few refugees the US has been willing to accept, stating Washington wasn’t doing enough compared to other countries in the Middle East and Europe.
Criticism mounted after a heartbreaking photograph appeared several days ago of a drowned 3-year-old refugee, Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed ashore shore in Turkey.
“How can we tell little Aylan’s family that we simply can’t manage to welcome them, that it would be too dangerous, or take away jobs? Surely we can do better,” the letter reads.
The US has already contributed about $4 billion to help Syrian refugees abroad, but in 2014 it accepted only 132 Syrians refugees out of the 4 million that have fled their country since civil war broke out in 2011.
By contrast, Germany has said it would take in 800,000 refugees this year.
Lawmakers said the US should “resettle a minimum of 200,000 refugees by the end of 2016,” and half of them should be Syrian. The numbers dovetail with recommendations proposed by Refugee Council USA, a coalition of 20 refugee organizations.
“When we saw that [10,000] we just said, ‘Uh, did he forget a zero in his announcement?’ Because the 10,000 figure certainly doesn’t even begin to seriously address the issue,” the executive director of the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service, Erol Kekic, told the Huffington Post.
Just how many Syrian refugees the US decides to take in will have to be settled by Congress by the end of this month, before the beginning of the next fiscal cycle.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Thursday that “to scale up to a degree that some members of Congress may have in mind would have some significant fiscal consequences,” because checking backgrounds requires manpower and time, and Congress would have to make a financial commitment, reported the Huffington Post.
The current refugee crisis broke out this spring, when tens of thousands of people crossed the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to reach the safe havens of Europe. Approximately one third of them are Syrians, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Those who survived the risky and illegal sea journey have flooded coastal countries in an attempt to reach the EU. Many have ignored asylum request rules, often continuing their trek on foot to the wealthier states of Northern Europe, such as Germany and Sweden, causing transportation gridlock in Hungary and at the German-Danish border.