Kerry: US to accept more Syrian refugees

Posted at 5:21 PM, Sep 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-20 20:21:46-04

The United States is increasing the number of worldwide migrants it takes in as Western leaders scramble to address the Syrian refugee crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday.

Kerry said the current cap of 70,000 migrants annually will be increased to 85,000 next fiscal year and 100,000 in 2017.

The announcement came at news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin, as Europe is increasingly under pressure from refugees who are fleeing Syria's civil war and other Middle Eastern battles.

"This step that I am announcing today, I believe is in keeping with the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope," Kerry said. "And it will be accompanied by additional financial contributions to the humanitarian effort, not only from our government but from the American people. And that will become more specific in the next days."

Many of the additional refugees would be Syrian. The U.S. had previously indicated it was going to increase to 10,000 the number of Syrian refugees the United States planned to take in next year; so far this year has taken in about 1,500 Syrian refugees.

Kerry said President Barack Obama's administration will ask Congress for funding in order to continue lifting the number of resettlement slots.

"Now, this will be a debate -- obviously -- and a discussion in Congress in the next days," Kerry said.

"We're doing what we know we can manage immediately. What we feel what we can do by working within the system we have and within the challenges we have, budget-wise, but as soon as we have an opportunity to try to up that, we'll welcome -- because America has always welcomed -- bringing more people in in these kinds of circumstances," he said.

Most of the pressure of the Syrian refugee crisis has landed on Europe, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated in recent years.

All refugees would be subject to background checks, but a pair of Republican lawmakers expressed skepticism about the government's ability to ensure militants posing as refugees do not infiltrate the U.S.

"ISIS and other terrorist groups have made it abundantly clear that they will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States," wrote Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, in a join statement issued Sunday.

"Now, the Obama administration wants to bring in an additional ten thousand Syrians without a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won't be able to enter the country. The administration has essentially given the American people a 'trust me.' That isn't good enough," they said.