Kerry Wants to Accept More Syrian Refugees, but Will Congress Allow It?
Policy + Politics

Kerry Wants to Accept More Syrian Refugees, but Will Congress Allow It?

REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement on Sunday that the United States would significantly boost the number of Syrian refugees it would take in, increasing from a previous level of 70,000 to 100,000 migrants by 2017, may make for a good headline, but it’s far from a done deal.

"This step is in keeping with America's best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope," Kerry said Sunday during a press conference in Berlin.

Related: Can the U.S. Handle 100,000 Syrian Refugees?

Standing in the administration’s way is a GOP-controlled Congress wary of the U.S. opening its doors refugees from the Syrian civil war. Top lawmakers have already signaled they have no interest in seeing the country wade deeper into the migrant crisis that has roiled the Middle East and Europe.

While they cite a number of reasons for their resistance to the Obama administration’s relocation efforts, their top concern is that Islamic extremists will attempt exploit the humanitarian opening and increase the chances of a “lone wolf” terrorist attacks taking place inside U.S. borders.

ISIS and other terror groups "have made it abundantly clear that they will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States. Now the Obama administration wants to bring in an additional 10,000 Syrians without a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won't be able to enter the country,” Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and his House counterpart, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), said in a statement.

“The administration has essentially given the American people a 'trust me.' That isn't good enough,” they said.

Related: Still targeting balanced budget despite refugee costs: German finance ministry

Last week House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced legislation that would give Capitol Hill an up-or-down vote on the administration’s previous plan to allow at least 10,000 more refugees into the U.S.

It’s unclear how Kerry’s announcement might influence the proposed measure, which says Congress must first approve the number of migrants the administration wants to let into the country and requires that refugees from Iraq and Syria and are members of a religious minority get to move to the front of the line.

“These important security updates to the refugee process are necessary for not only the security of the United States, but for the safety of the refugees,” McCaul said in a statement.

Congress could also use the power of the purse to influence the administration’s refugee policy.

Related: Obama’s New Pivot to Russia on Syria and What It Means

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chair of the Senate Appropriations subpanel responsible for the State Department’s budget, has said the U.S. should take its “fair share” of Syrian refugees.

However, the 2016 presidential candidate has been vague about what that figure should be or how much the U.S. should spend on such an effort.

The Senate foreign aid bill for 2016 would cut refugee aid funding by $415 million but Graham has floated the possibility of working out a bipartisan measure to funnel more money to international refugee associations, the United Nations and others attempting to handle the crisis.

“I don’t see how we can lead the free world and turn our back when people are seeking [our help],” Graham earlier this month during an event at the National Press Club. “We should take the Statue of Liberty and tear it down if this is our response as a nation. Just tear it down, because we don’t need it anymore.”