FACT CHECK: Has The US Only Admitted 11 Syrian Refugees In 2018?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Matt Viser, deputy Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe, tweeted Thursday that only 11 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. in 2018.

Verdict: True

Due to stricter vetting and a scaled back refugee program, only 11 Syrians were admitted in the first three months of 2018.

Fact Check:

While testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis emphasized the need to broker an end to the Syrian civil war.

“I’ve seen refugees from Asia to Europe, Kosovo to Africa – I’ve never seen refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end,” he said.

Viser and other journalists picked up on the remark, in part because the Trump administration has all but halted refugee resettlement from the war-torn country. “While the plight of the 5.5 million refugees who have fled Syria is apparently a factor in US policy, it doesn’t appear to be inspiring the Trump administration to let in very many refugees,” Vox opined.

Viser tweeted out the number of Syrian refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. in recent years; he claimed that only 11 have been admitted in 2018, down from 15,479 in 2016.

The figures come from the State Department, which publishes a monthly breakdown by country. Very few Syrians have been admitted historically, but the number peaked late in the Obama administration as the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011, continued with no end in sight.

It’s difficult to extrapolate how many Syrian refugees will be admitted for the remainder of 2018, but the number has dropped off precipitously since President Donald Trump assumed office. Only 44 Syrians have been admitted since the current fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

Syria is one of 11 countries targeted for additional screening measures, including more in-depth interviews. Refugees from Syria had been indefinitely barred under the original version of Trump’s travel ban, which faced legal battles throughout 2017. The refugee ban was lifted entirely in January 2018 after recommendations were made for stricter vetting protocols.

Stricter measures have slowed refugee admissions for all countries, not just Syria. “Processing time may be slower as we implement additional security vetting procedures; each refugee’s case is different,” a State Department spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In total, the U.S. admitted 5,225 refugees in the first three months of 2018; the number stood at 13,427 and 15,264 over the same period in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

Critics say the changes are a bureaucratic attempt to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to ban the entry of Muslims to the U.S. The administration says the policies are necessary to prevent terrorism and fraud.

The White House set a ceiling of 45,000 refugees for the 2018 fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30, the lowest cap since 1980. The State Department cautions that the number is not a quota, so year-end admissions may be lower.

The slowdown has been compounded by the administration’s decision to devote more resources to processing asylum applications. Over 300,000 immigrants from South America, Central America and elsewhere are awaiting decisions on whether they are eligible to remain in the U.S.

“This backlog has grown by more than 1750 percent over the last five years, and the rate of new asylum applications has more than tripled,” reads the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Politico Magazine reports that the Trump administration has diverted about half of its Refugee Affairs Division officers to asylum and border-related efforts. The scale-back in the refugee program will result in the closure of dozens of refugee resettlement offices.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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