The recent Paris attacks intensified the debate on how America should allow people through its doors just as Washington received its first wave of Syrian refugees.
Between Oct. 2014 and this Sept., 25 Syrian refugees settled in Washington, according the to the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. The number is an increase from the three people Washington received between fiscal year 2012 and 2014.
Refugee Coordinator Sarah Peterson said the jump was due to a group of Syrians making it through the U.S. screening process.
“The war in Syria has been going on for four years,” she said. “Many people who arrived in Washington this year waited in refugee camps for three years or longer.”
She said each screening process is expected to last 18 to 24 months and often takes much longer. After attacks across Europe and North Africa, the nation’s leaders have fought to instill tougher screening for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Washington is one of 22 states with governors who said they still welcomed Syrian refugees.
On Nov. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that would require the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the director of national intelligence and the director of the F.B.I. to confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq doesn’t pose a threat.
The bill passed 289 to 137, and included 47 Democrats’ votes. Washington state’s delegation voted straight party line, with six Democrats against the increased restrictions on refugees, and four Republicans in favor, including Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Third District. The bill’s future in senate is unknown, and the majority vote could override President Barack Obama’s promised veto. Minority Leader Harry Reid said he will try to block the bill.
West of Chicago, Washington has the fifth largest refugee population, according to numbers gathered by the Office of Refugee and Resettlement.
Peterson said the Syrian refugees Washington has received is a fraction compared to the nearly 3,000 total refugees the state has absorbed this year. The largest population of the state’s refugees fled from Iraq, Somalia, Burma and Ukraine.
Peterson said she hasn’t evaluated yet how the bill might affect whether Washington receives more Syrian refugees.
“The federal government, such as the Department of Security and Homeland Security, decides who and how many refugees enters America,” she said, adding that local agencies will assist whoever the government relocates is Washington.