An estimated four million people have fled Syria to escape the country’s civil war and a growing chorus of congressional lawmakers say the U.S. should spend $1 billion to help resettle displaced migrants.
Secretary of State John Kerry has said the U.S. is set to boost the number of total refugees accepted in 2016 from 70,000 to 85,000. In 2017, another 100,000 will be accepted under Kerry’s plan.
Last week, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) unveiled a supplemental spending bill designed to assist Syrian refugees. The bill doesn’t say how many refugees should be allowed into the U.S., but Leahy’s office estimates the measure could help 100,000 migrants over the next two years, at a cost of $1 billion.
The “disaster in Syria dwarfs anything we have seen for decades, with millions of people uprooted and seeking safety in other countries. It is a humanitarian emergency of staggering proportions, and we need to do more,” said Leahy, who serves on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
Graham, a 2016 presidential contender who chairs the appropriations subpanel responsible for the State Department’s budget, has argued the U.S. should take its “fair share” of Syrian refugees, a stance that puts him at odds with the rest of the GOP presidential field.
The proposed bipartisan legislation contains a number of stipulations – such as mandating that the White House inform Congress within 45 days about how it would spend the emergency cash – but is also the first honest attempt by Congress to put a price tag on how much it might cost Washington to help alleviate a crisis that has roiled Europe.
The emergency spending bill, already endorsed by dozens of Senate Democrats, received another shot in the arm on Wednesday when Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), back from a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos where an estimated 400,000 refugees have flooded the streets, backed the legislation.
“The United States continues to lead the way in financial assistance, but we have a moral obligation to do all we can to help these people in need,” Durbin said in a statement. “My colleagues and I will continue to push for the United States to resettle more refugees as the crisis grows.”
The U.S. has taken in less than 2,000 Syrians, but even that amount has angered congressional Republicans who argue the administration doesn’t have enough security procedures in place to properly vet the refugees and determine if they pose a security risk. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has warned that letting Syrian refugees into the U.S. may be “the greatest Trojan horse” ever for the Islamic State and vowed to deport all of them if elected.
By contrast, Germany is expected to take in 800,000 asylum-seekers and France could accept 60,000.
Still, a $1 billion price tag for 100,000 migrants, a figure that could easily double if Kerry’s plan goes into effect, is likely to be met with sticker shock by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The administration and congressional leaders are already engaged in budget talks to fund the government after December 11 and possibly set federal spending levels for the next two years. Interjecting another controversial topic into the negotiations could make the talks even more difficult.
Perhaps in recognition of the expected cost of resettling migrants, officials from the White House Office of Digital Strategy earlier this month asked the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to team up with the United Nations to raise funds on behalf of refugees. The campaign raised roughly $1.7 million.