Policy

White House Hedges on Syrian Refugees

Only around 1,500 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. so far

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, right, displays the iconic photo of a dead Syrian boy at a news conference in December. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The White House sounded only moderately confident Friday that it will reach President Barack Obama’s goal of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees by Oct. 1.  

Since Obama made the pledge last September , only around 1,500 have been admitted into the United States. The State Department has been working on a plan to admit almost as many each month in order to meet the president's benchmark.  

“There is no denying there’s work to do,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday.  

He acknowledged that progress so far, in numerical terms, has only been “linear.” But he added that no one, including the president, expected all 10,000 to be screened and admitted overnight.  

[Related: How Syrian Refugees Get to the United States] Earnest seemed to suggest that the process of vetting Syrian applicants , which he called the most strenuous one run by U.S. federal agencies, has turned away many of the nearly 10,000 refugees that have been interviewed.  

Earnest said the Obama administration is “not going to cut corners” just to meet the president’s goal.  

“I’m confident that all the people working on this understand,” he said, “that the president of the United States thinks this is a top priority.  

[Related: Ryan Calls for 'Pause' on Syrian Refugees] “And they have some work to do,” he said. “We certainly intend to reach this goal.”  

More than 4 million Syrians have fled the country into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Over a million have sought asylum in European countries , the agency reported.   

[Related: White House Cautious on 'Fragile' Syrian Cease-Fire] They are fleeing the country's years-old civil war, which pits the president, Bashar Assad, against rebel forces and the Islamic State . Further muddying the waters is the involvement of the United States and its coalition on the side of the rebels, and Russia in assisting Assad’s troops.  

Another hurdle is the inability, so far, of the Obama administration and other world powers — including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrians on both sides of the civil strife — to come up with a post-Assad political plan.  

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.