Petros Giannakouris / AP Photo

US plans to accept more refugees next year

Officials say US plans to accept 5,000 more refugees next year, bringing the total number to 75,000

The United States plans to raise the number of refugees it takes in by 5,000 next year to 75,000, including an unspecified number from Syria, senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday, and congressional aides said the total may go significantly higher even as some lawmakers worried about "opening the floodgates."

Several U.S. officials confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers in a private meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the government was planning on taking in an additional 5,000 refugees next year.

Kerry said after the meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the U.S. would increase the number of refugees it is willing to take in, but he did not give a specific number.

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

A senior State Department official, speaking on a conference call with reporters later, said the U.S. had taken in about 70,000 refugees a year over the past three years and was planning on "some sort of a modest increase" next year.

Congressional aides said administration officials had indicated that number could go significantly higher.

"I think they finally recognize that an additional 5,000 is not a serious response," said one aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The State Department official said the administration planned to increase the number of refugees it takes in from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, particularly those affected by conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"When we talk about increasing overall numbers, we're talking about increases for people from around the world," the official said. "In addition to bringing in more Syrians, which is the plan, we would like to admit more African refugees next year." The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Since the start of the four-year-long Syrian civil war, the U.S. has taken in 1,500 refugees, with 300 more expected to be cleared by October.

European countries have taken in waves of migrants fleeing violence. Germany allowed 20,000 in over the weekend and is preparing for 800,000 this year.

The senior State Department official said Kerry had spoken with his German counterpart over the past 24 hours. "My sense is that Europeans are so focused right now on this on a day-to-day basis that they're not really looking to us yet to help them, but we are thinking about what we can do to be helpful," the official added.

Some U.S. lawmakers are pressing the administration to do more about the crisis. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., expressed his support for Kerry's pledge. 

“Many in Washington are looking forward to a visit later this month by Pope Francis, who just this week asked the faithful throughout Europe to shelter refugees fleeing ‘death from war and hunger.’  In the United States, we can do the same thing," Leahy said in a press release. 

But other lawmakers have expressed their opposition to allowing more refugees to enter the country. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, attended the meeting with Kerry and said he was concerned that the administration plans "opening the floodgates and using emergency authority to go above what they proposed to Congress in today's consultation."

Grassley urged wealthy Arab states to take in Syrian refugees. Some, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been criticized for not doing so.

Others expressed worries for national security.

The chairman of the Homeland Security Commitee, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Tex., told The Washington Post that it is up to the administration of President Barack Obama to assure Congress and Americans that "our security screening is up to the task." 

"Terrorists have exploited the refugee process to sneak into our country in the past," McCaul said. 

Wire services 

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