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1st Syrian refugees of Jordan "surge" headed for U.S.

AMMAN, Jordan-- The first Syrian family to move to the U.S. under its speeded-up "surge" resettlement operation has left Jordan for the United States.

Ahmad al-Abboud, his wife and five children, left on Wednesday for Kansas City in Missouri.

Before boarding the plane, al-Abboud said that "America is the country of freedom and democracy ... We are looking forward to have a good life there."

In February, a temporary "surge" center was built in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to speed up the resettlement process and help meet a target set by President Obama to resettle some 10,000 Syrians to the United States by Sep. 30. Every day, some 600 Syrians are interviewed in the center.

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Roughly 2,200 Syrian refugees have been allowed into the U.S. over the last four years.

Jordan hosts around 635,000 Syrians registered with the U.N. Refugee Agency after fleeing Syria's civil war.

The Obama administration's plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S. came up against stiff opposition from Republicans -- including governors, members of Congress and 2016 presidential candidates -- who have expressed concern about the vetting process.

The White House said a great deal of those concerns were based on "misinformation," and State Department officials briefed governors and mayors on a conference call to reassure them that the process of screening refugees is robust and secure.

Amid the growing political controversy, however, the Obama administration also reminded state officials in November that states do not have legal authorityto refuse to accept Syrian refugees.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement said in a letter to state resettlement officials that states may not deny benefits or services to refugees based on a refugee's country of origin or religious affiliation.

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