Scrambling to address a growing Syrian refugee crisis, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday that the United States would significantly increase the number of worldwide migrants it takes in over the next two years, though not by nearly the amount many activists and former officials have urged.
The U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year, up from 70,000, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017, Kerry said at news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after they discussed the mass migration of Syrians fleeing their civil war.
Many, though not all, of the additional refugees would be Syrian, American officials have said. Others would come from strife-torn areas of Africa. The White House had previously announced it intended to take in 10,000 additional Syrian refugees over the next year.
Asked why the U.S. couldn’t take more, Kerry cited post-Sept. 11 screening requirements and a lack of money made available by Congress.
“We’re doing what we know we can manage immediately,” he said, adding that the U.S. cannot take shortcuts on security checks.
U.S. lawmakers immediately expressed concerns about the potential influx.
The Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations “have made it abundantly clear that they will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States. Now the Obama administration wants to bring in an additional 10,000 Syrians without a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won’t be able to enter the country,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
“The administration has essentially given the American people a ‘trust me.’ That isn’t good enough,” according to a statement from the lawmakers, who head the congressional judiciary committees.
Conditions in Syria have been growing increasingly dire as the civil war grinds on. As many as 9 million people have been displaced, including more than 4 million who have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
A letter made public last week and signed by several former Obama administration officials urged the U.S. government to accept 100,000 Syrian migrants, and to put in place special rules to speed the resettlement process. Germany says it will accept as many as a million Syrians this year.
“Current (American) efforts are not adequate,” according to the letter, signed by Michelle Flournoy, a former senior U.S. defense official who once was Obama’s choice for Pentagon chief, and Harold Koh, the former State Department legal adviser. “Humanitarian aid has fallen short in the face of unspeakable suffering.”
Syrian migrants to the U.S. would be referred by the U.N. refugee agency, screened by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and resettled around the country.
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