Last month, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked the administration to change immigration policy to address the Syrian refugee crisis caused by three years of civil war. There are an estimated 2.4 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
The U.S. government Wednesday published a joint notice in the Federal Register announcing it would exempt Syrian refuges from two provisions of U.S. immigration law to ensure that innocent refugees who provided insignificant support to armed opposition groups will not be barred from entering the country.
"These exemptions will help address the plight of Syrian refugees who are caught up in the worst humanitarian crisis in a generation," said Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights Subcommittee, who requested the exemptions in January.
Current U.S. immigration law would bar a Syrian who gave a cigarette or sold a sandwich to a member of the Free Syrian Army from getting refugee status to enter the United States, a release from Durbin's office said.
"We applaud the administration for taking steps now to address some of the hurdles that Syrian refugees are likely to face in being resettled to safety in the United States," said a spokesman for Human Rights First, an advocacy group founded as the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights in 1978. "At the same time, several of the scenarios covered by these exemptions should not have been treated as 'terrorist activity' in the first place."
Human Rights First has asked that at least 15,000 Syrian refugees be allowed to enter the United States annually.