U.S. to take at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees

Updated 5:32 PM EDT, Thu September 10, 2015
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Story highlights

NEW: Proposal to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees will occur under quota, but the cap may be raised

The announcement comes amidst growing pressure for the U.S. to increase the number of refugees it accepts.

The U.S. plans to resettle 1,800 Syrian refugees by Oct. 1. Human rights groups want the U.S. to take 65,000 through next year.

Washington CNN —  

President Barack Obama has ordered his administration to “scale up” the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States in the coming year, directing his team to prepare for at least 10,000 in the next fiscal year, the White House said Thursday.

The announcement comes amidst growing pressure for the United States to increase the number of refugees it accepts as those displaced by the raging Syrian civil war pour into Europe and other regions.

Before the White House announcement, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the number of additional refugees the Obama administration had said on Wednesday that it was looking to accept – just 5,000.

“This is really important. I think 5,000 is far too low a figure,” she told reporters, referring to the amount Secretary of State John Kerry had mentioned to lawmakers Wednesday, according to Congressional aides and other sources familiar with the meeting.

The proposed resettling of at least 10,000 Syrian refugees would be allocated out of a U.S. quota of 75,000 refugee admissions slated for next fiscal year, beginning October 1, a senior administration official said.

That quota applies to refugees from all over the world and is set at the beginning of the fiscal year, but Obama can raise that quota if there’s a crisis.

Already, a Senate aide said that Kerry had told senators that “they’d seek an additional increase beyond that,” referring to the 75,000 quota.

“He gave a range of numbers,” the aide said. Kerry mentioned a potential new total as high as 100,000, as well as other possible maximum numbers, according to the aide.

In all, about 1,500 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the vast majority of them this fiscal year.

Here’s a breakdown: 23 in 2011, 41 in 2012, 45 in 2013, 249 in 2014 and 1,199 so far this fiscal year, which ends September 30, according to the State Department figures as of September 4.

About 300 more refugees are expected to be admitted by the end of this fiscal year. This equates to a grand total of about 1,800 refugees from Syria’s four-year civil war being admitted to the United States by October 1, according to U.S. officials.

Human rights groups have called on the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year. Last spring, Democratic lawmakers wrote to Obama asking him to “significantly increase” the number of Syrians permitted to resettle in the U.S.

Kerry and Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Ann Richard told lawmakers that they could come back to seek congressional agreement, or an “emergency exception” to bring in more refugees, a source familiar with the meeting said. A congressional aide said Kerry suggested he could return to Congress to ask for their support for admitting as many as 30,000 more refugees.

“We are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe,” he said after the meeting. “That’s being vetted fully right now.”

A senior State Department official briefing reporters said there were “varying views among lawmakers present at the meeting about accepting more refugees.” The official said Kerry proposed “a range of different numbers.”

“The thinking all along this year was we could move to increase it, some sort of a modest increase,” the official said. “Given what’s going on in the world today, I know that there’s a lot of people outside the administration, and inside the administration, too, in very senior positions, who would like to increase it significantly.”

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The official added: “The question becomes, will Congress support that? Can we move this process that we have, that doesn’t turn on a dime, to start bringing larger numbers sooner? That’s hard.”

The official added the main objective of the resettlement program was to ensure refuges admitted to the United States return home once the conflict ends, which was difficult to do when they were resettled so far from home.

In a statement after the meeting, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, expressed his concerns.

While he said Kerry was seeking a “reasonable increase” in refugees allowed into the U.S. for the coming year, referring to the 5,000 figure, he added that “when pressed, the administration indicated that they were considering opening the floodgates and using emergency authority to go above what they proposed to Congress in today’s consultation.”

He continued, “Before agreeing to accept tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, the Obama administration must prove to the American people that it will take the necessary precautions to ensure that national security is a top priority, especially at a time when ruthless terrorist groups like ISIS are committed to finding ways to enter the United States and harm Americans.”