Presidential Power and The Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Carolina de la Pedraja – Of the many powers delegated to the President of the United States, one of them is allowing individuals to take refuge in the United States during emergency refugee situations. The United States had not taken a large role in helping Syria until early September of this year, when President Obama directed his administration to raise the number of Syrian refugees to be admitted in the upcoming fiscal year from 2,000 to 10,000. As the United States’ most recent concern has been the Islamic State and similar organizations, allowing an increase of refugees from a country plagued by these very organizations was bound to cause a stir on Capitol Hill. Despite this inevitable turmoil, however, Title VIII of the United States Code allows the President to raise the number of refugees to be admitted if need be.

Title VIII states that if the President determines, after discussions with members of the Committees on the Judiciary of the Senate and of the House, that the refugee situation constitutes an emergency, he is allowed to raise the number of refugees to be admitted. In addition to the in-person discussion, the President must also provide those individuals with a description of the refugee situation, how many refugees are to be admitted, and how much it will cost as well as where they will be placed.

Despite obvious backlash from Republican Party members, President Obama has the power to allow refugees in if he deems the refugee crisis severe enough. In prior years, the United States has offered refuge to thousands. For example, in 1979, the United States offered refuge to over 100,000 Vietnamese nationals and, in one year, raised that number to over 200,000. Another such instance was that of the Mariel boatlift in 1980, when the United States took in more than 120,000 Cuban exiles. In those times of crisis, the United States allowed hundreds of thousands of individuals to take refuge on its soil, deeming such a response merited by the severity of the crises.

The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst refugee crises in decades, and President Obama’s decision to relieve the European nations of some of the burden is certainly within his power. As the situation in Syria is serious enough to warrant classification as an emergency refugee situation, President Obama’s Title VIII power activates and be may be exercised.

This month, marking the beginning of the fiscal year, solidifies that the refugees are coming; a situation with which not everyone is happy. Challengers to the increased number, including Rep. Peter King (R-NY), claim that this program may be used by potential terrorists to gain access to U.S. soil. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has made it clear that his concern regarding President Obama’s increase of admissible Syrian refugees is that the reason this is even happening in Syria is due to the President’s actions in the region. Senator McCain has stated that, because there was not a strong enough military response to the Syrian crisis, “those people’s lives are on [President Obama’s] hands.” Others who have chimed in on the topic include Republican Presidential Nominee frontrunner Donald Trump who, although originally in favor of the increase in refugees, has recently said: “If I win, they’re going back.”

Another major concern expressed by challengers of the increase is the idea that allowing this many more Syrian refugees is potentially allowing possible future terrorists access to our borders. White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, in attempting to calm these fears, explains that the admissible refugees have to go through the most scrutinized process to enter the United States. Although this may be true, Earnest also states that the process can take up to two years to complete, so where the refugees would be housed during this process is still unclear and likely to bring concern to citizens of the United States.

As Title VIII nullifies any objections to President Obama’s order to increase the number of Syrian refugees to be admitted, the concerns should instead shift to deciding what will be done with the 10,000+ refugees once they arrive to the United States since their arrival is both imminent and inevitable.

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