As neighboring countries struggle to accommodate millions of Syrian refugees fleeing bloodshed, displacement, and starvation, the U.S. is sitting on visa applications for more than 6,000 Syrians trying to reunite with American family members. On Wednesday, a group of more than 70 members of Congress asked the Department of Homeland Security to extend humanitarian parole to the 6,381 Syrian refugees whose immigration petitions are gummed up in bureaucracy.
The same group, spearheaded by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), wrote to former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in March, asking her to extend humanitarian parole to a limited population of Syrians who are already approved for permanent residence in the U.S., but remain in limbo due to visa backlogs. Six months later, DHS has still not responded. The representatives’ latest letter argues this delay is a life-or-death situation:
When we first wrote to Secretary Napolitano, refugee numbers were projected to exceed one million by September. As we now know, with the escalation of violence and the use of horrific gas attacks by government forces, the number of refugees has greatly surpassed these already dire projections, and has already topped two million. The vast number of Syrians fleeing their homes continues to put enormous strains on the international community, Syria’s neighbors and relief agencies.
When DHS received the first letter, there were 5,947 Syrians with approved immigration petitions. Since then, that number has grown by about 434.
The Congressmen are asking for a very limited version of humanitarian parole, which could offer a temporary visa to any Syrians who can show urgent humanitarian need, allowing them to stay in the U.S. until the crisis is over. In the past, humanitarian parole has been extended to orphaned Haitian children after the 2010 earthquake, Cuban refugees, and people with pressing medical emergencies. If the DHS recognizes Syria as a disaster worthy of humanitarian parole, hundreds of thousands of Syrians could suddenly have a temporary escape.