WASHINGTON — The United States soon will begin admitting a bigger trickle of the more than 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq.
In doing so, the White House acknowledged for the first time that Iraq may never be safe for some who have helped the United States there.
Some Assyrian-Americans in the Northern San Joaquin Valley believe the 7,000 refugees who will be screened and allowed to move to the United States represent only a fraction of the mounting refugee crisis. And one worried that his Christian brothers may be left out.
Roben Tamraz, who owns the H Street Cafe in Modesto, was guarded in his assessment.
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"It's good for the people they let in, for them to escape their suffering wherever they are in Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iran," he said. "But it's not a solution for everyone.
"We need a stable Iraq with the help of the U.S. We need a strong central government that protects everyone from themselves and the terrorists and Muslim extremists."
Tamraz is from Kirkuk in northern Iraq. He was a high school teacher in Baghdad and came to the United States in 1997.
Tamraz said the Assyrian Christians in Iraq today face extinction without protection from the United States. He said the Muslim extremists have given his people four choices. "They can convert, they can pay a ransom to stay alive, they can leave or they can die."
John Kanno of Modesto said he only likes the Bush program if it is reserved and expanded for Assyrian Christians.
Kanno emigrated from England in 1981. His parents left Iraq in 1958. He's a former Republican congressional candidate and ex-host on KBSV, the Ceres-based Internet and satellite channel for Assyrians.
He stressed the absolute danger his people face in Iraq.
"In the Dora district of Baghdad," said Kanno, "the Christians are being told to become Muslims or be killed. It would be nice if there would be a safe haven for Christians.
"The Kurds were protected by no-fly zones and so were the Shias, but not the Christians. We're being thrown out of our own country."
Albert Benjamin of Modesto is a past president of the Assyrian-American Civic Club of Turlock. He came here from Baghdad in 1973. Benjamin said he is behind the new White House plan and whoever comes with it.
"As a human being, it's time to help. That's the best step for everyone," he said. "It's just good news (that more are coming), and God bless America once again for opening its doors and arms to people who need a place to live."
The Bush administration completed the new guidelines to screen Iraqi refugees in the shadow of agonizing delays and withering criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers.
The 2 million-plus people — the fastest-growing refugee population in the world — have left Iraq, but Washington has balked at allowing them into the United States for security reasons.
Since the war began in 2003, fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees have been admitted.
Now, under enhanced screening aimed at weeding out terrorists — announced this week by the Department of Homeland Security — the administration plans to allow nearly 7,000 Iraqis to resettle in the United States by September.
As with all incoming refugees, Iraqis accepted for resettlement will be given assistance from government and private agencies, including language and job training, officials said.
Homeland Security officials would not discuss what the enhanced process entails, but several people familiar with the program said it includes additional interviews, biometric screening and cross-checks against employer databases, none of which are necessarily required for nonIraqi refugees.
The State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which deals with resettlement, said communities around the United States have been identified as destinations for the first batch of Iraqis but would not disclose them.
Benjamin said he believed most of the 10,000 to 15,000 Assyrians in Stanislaus County would be willing to sponsor refugees.
Stanislaus County historically has been one of California's leaders in resettling refugees, especially from the Middle East.
Rick Robinson, the county's chief executive officer, said he didn't believe a new wave of immigrants would overwhelm the area.
"Our challenge is and continues to be to provide the proper service and care for those who live in our communities," Robinson said. "Usually, special programs come with special funds. As a county of 500,000 people, we're able to adjust and even 1,000 extra people shouldn't tax us that much."