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Politics & Government

Sen. Klobuchar Calls On U.S. To Do More For Syrian Refugees

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to hear now the argument for America to welcome more refugees from Syria. Of the millions on the move, only about 1,500 have been resettled in the U.S. The State Department says another 8,000 would be allowed in by the end of 2016 - still, a tiny, tiny percentage of the total, which is why Sen. Amy Klobuchar contends the U.S. can do more. The Minnesota Democrat joined us from her office on Capitol Hill.

Good morning, Senator.

AY KLOBUCHAR: Well, good morning, Renee. Thanks for having me on.

MONTAGNE: Now, in a letter to the president earlier this year, you joined 13 other senators and cited a number suggested for the U.S. by a major coalition of U.S. refugee groups, 65,000 Syrian refugees. That was their number. That would be a dramatic increase. Do you think that's a realistic number?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, the U.S., since we sent the letter, has agreed to increase from the around 1,000 mark to 5 to 8,000. And Senator Durbin and I, who led the letter, see this as a positive sign and a good beginning. We're talking about it over a period of time, the 65,000. And it is actually 50 percent of what the U.N. commission on refugees suggested that we take. That's usually the ballpark of what our country does.

MONTAGNE: There's been a lot of concern about terrorism. There's been a lot of concern, even since in your city, Minneapolis, that area, it has welcomed many Somalis fleeing militant Islamists. And now, as our own Dina Temple-Raston has reported, more than 60 children of Somali immigrants have gone or attempted to go into Syria to join ISIS. Are you not worried about at least some terrorists exploiting a major resettlement?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, we have a very intense screening process for these Syrian refugees. In terms of the Somalis in Minnesota, the first man who went to fight with ISIS was a man whose last name was McCain, out of Minnesota. He was not Somalian. So we, like other communities, have had people that have been encouraged to go fight there. A lot of them have been indicted in Minnesota. And you wonder why that happened. Well, that happened because our Somalian community is so strong. And they work with law enforcement. We have a very positive relationship with them.

MONTAGNE: There is, though, a tension between the need to vet and the time that that takes, realistically, and the actual disaster that we're seeing unfolding in terms of refugees coming out of Syria.

KLOBUCHAR: There is. And we know that tension exists. But I'm not suggesting the U.S. be the number one country here in terms of taking in refugees. I'm just suggesting that we do our part as a member of this world. And when you look at what has happened here, you have a number of reasons to do this. One is the obvious humanitarian, moral reason, when you see that lifeless little boy's body being carried by a rescuer on a beach. The second is the national security reason, that you've got countries like Jordan and Turkey that have been overrun by refugees. And Jordan's economy is fragile. To suddenly take in over a million people - that is one of our best allies in the Mideast. Turkey is an ally as well. So we have to look at this from that security perspective.

The final one is an economic American perspective. You know, we've got 90 of our Fortune 500 companies formed by immigrants. We have an immigration debate raging right now in our country. And the refugees are part of that debate. But I will say these are legally vetted, screened refugees that would come in. And they can actually fill some of the jobs that we have available in states like mine, where we have lower unemployment rates. But I look at it in those ways. First of all, obviously, moral and humanitarian, second, security with our allies, and the third is economic.

MONTAGNE: Although, as you mention, there is an immigration debate in this country, a pretty intense one. I mean, given the strong Republican and Tea Party concern and resistance to immigration in general, how realistic is it to talk about bringing in thousands of refugees at this point in time?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, it must be pretty realistic when you have two of the leading candidates for president on the Republican side, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, actually calling for the refugees to come in. And I took some solace in the fact that those two presidential candidates were willing to speak out on this.

MONTAGNE: Democrat Amy Klobuchar is the senior senator from Minnesota. She joined us from her office in the Senate. Thank you very much.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.