More Needs to Be Done to Help Syrian Refugees

Over the past four years, the world has watched in horror as Syria has descended into chaos. The clash between Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal regime, assorted rebel groups and militant Islamic extremists has left the country a nightmarish war-zone and helped produce the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

This humanitarian disaster has affected countries far beyond the Syrian border, as millions of refugees flee into surrounding countries and Europe. Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced that the yearly cap for refugees admitted into the United States will increase to 100,000 individuals in 2017. And while the announcement is a welcome step forward in addressing the situation, these numbers still pale in comparison to what is needed to substantively help the more than four million who have fled Syria.

The United States has been among the most generous of nations in contributing money and aid to help the refugees, and true to our history of providing sanctuary to those fleeing violence, we are trying to do more by resettlement of a small portion of those displaced. Much of the focus has been on assisting those in need through the United Nation’s refugee program, but there is another option that we should also pursue that involves extending “humanitarian parole” to thousands of Syrians who already have approved family-based immigrant petitions. This would apply to Syrians who already have family in the United States who could help them assimilate as well as take financial responsibility for their wellbeing. It would also be of great value to many of the minority Christian population in Syria who has been disproportionally targeted for violence.

Humanitarian parole allows individuals to enter the United States on a temporary basis due to a “compelling emergency.” And while it is a tool used sparingly, in the past it has saved the lives of tens of thousands fleeing war, religious persecution, poverty and other life-threatening situations – most recently, the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

I am currently working with my colleagues in Congress to gather bipartisan support for a letter to the Department of Homeland Security urging Secretary Jeh Johnson to implement such a program, which could now help as many as 20,000 Syrian men, women, and children reach safe harbor and reunite with family members in the U.S. These people have already passed an initial review by USCIS to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the homeland and, if paroled, would still be required to undergo additional and thorough background checks. I first made a request for humanitarian parole for Syrians displaced by the war over two years ago with my former colleague Republican Frank Wolf and 70 other members of the House, and the scale of the problem has only multiplied. It is my hope that the increased urgency will finally push the Administration to act.

This program would not solve the problem altogether, but it gives us another avenue to allow refugees into the United States through an already established immigration program. It would also only apply to immigrants who have already passed initial security checks and whose applications have been accepted, but who have not been allowed to immigrate due to arbitrary limits on the number of visas allowed from Syria.

The dramatic surge of refugees into Europe over the past month is putting enormous strain on its neighbors, Europe, international relief agencies and the international community. Just as the United States has used the humanitarian parole program to provide temporary relief to Jews fleeing persecution in the Soviet Union and Cubans fleeing the Castro regime, we should extend the same helping hand to those families fleeing the carnage in Syria.

The Department of Homeland security has already committed to raising the number of Syrians we allow entrance into the U.S. under our refugee program, but it still has not moved on the issue of humanitarian parole, even as the number of refugees has more than quadrupled in the past two years. Let’s not wait until the image of another drowned child spurs the world to act.

Rep. Adam Schiff represents California’s 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.