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Feds defend refugee programs; 153 Syrians sent to Arizona this year
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Feds defend refugee programs; 153 Syrians sent to Arizona this year

  • Some of the 12,000 Iraqi Yazidi refugees who have arrived at Newroz camp in Al-Hassakah province, northeastern Syria, in August, after fleeing Islamic State militants. The refugees had walked up to 60km in searing temperatures through the Sinjar mountains and many had suffered severe dehydration.
    Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue CommitteeSome of the 12,000 Iraqi Yazidi refugees who have arrived at Newroz camp in Al-Hassakah province, northeastern Syria, in August, after fleeing Islamic State militants. The refugees had walked up to 60km in searing temperatures through the Sinjar mountains and many had suffered severe dehydration.

As Arizona's governor joined 29 others in calling for a halt to the resettlement of Syrian refugees following Friday's attacks in Paris, the Obama administration defended the program. More than 150 refugees from the war-ravaged country have come to Arizona this year —  including 63 in Tucson.

Among the Syrian refugees in the state are 43 in Glendale and 47 in Phoenix, State Department data showed.

Federal officials defended offering asylum to refugees in the United States on Tuesday, hoping to stem the effect of calls by 30 mostly Republican governors to halt the program.

"All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime," a State Department official said, which includes security checks that involve the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.

Due to the civil war in Syria, refugees from the country go through additional forms of security screening, he said. The vetting of refugees can take up to two years for each admitted to the United States.

At least 34 governors, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, joined a conference call with White House officials, who tried to reassure state officials that refugee programs run by the U.S. State Department are carefully screening incoming refugees before settlement in the United States. 

On Monday, Ducey and 29 other governors sent letters to the White House in an attempt to block the settlement of refugees. 

While some governors, including Texas' Greg Abbott, specifically asked for a halt on refugees from war-torn Syria, Ducey and others asked for a complete halt for all refugees. This request could potential grind to a halt a program that has resettled nearly 60,000 people this year from dozens of countries around the world. 

In a statement, Ducey asked for an "immediate halt in the placement of any new refugees in Arizona" and invoked a part of the U.S. Refuge Act to "receive immediate consultation by federal authorities." 

Ducey also called changes in federal law to give states "greater oversight and authority" in the administration of the refugee resettlement program. 

According to data from the State Department, 153 refuges from Syria have come to Arizona this year. Nearly half of those who have come to the United States this year are children. 

The State Deparment's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration handles the refugee program. 

A State Department official said that there has been "a lot of misperception" surrounding the refugee program, and it is "incumbent on us to work with state and local leaders to address concerns about our resettlement program." 

The official said that federal officials will "continue to consult with states to allay any concerns they may have about the program." 

"Fortunately, over 180 cities and towns nationwide have demonstrated an admirable commitment to welcome refugees," he said. 

John Sandweg, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that refugees are subjected to the "highest and most intensive security review of any population coming to the U.S." 

 "No group goes through greater scrutiny and vetting than refugees," he said, noting that the process takes 18-24 months to complete. "We should not forget that by and large refugees are fleeing the despicable violence of those who perpetrated Friday’s horrible attacks.”

"We are currently facing the worst displacement crisis World War II," said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, an international aid group. "The U.S. refugee resettlement system hasn’t failed here, and it has been a lifeline for people fleeing persecution."

In the last year, the United States has accepted around 1,800 Syrians and in August, Obama said the country could accept up to 10,000. 

However, that pales in comparison to the more than estimated 4.5 million displaced by the conflict, according the United Nations Human Rights Commission. 

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