Obama administration plans to increase refugee resettlement to 110,000 slots

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. CREDIT: AP Photos
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. CREDIT: AP Photos

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Tuesday that the United States plans to increase the number of refugees into the country to 110,000 in the upcoming 2017 fiscal year, up 10,000 more than he previously called for. This year’s ceiling is capped at 85,000.

In a closed-door briefing with congressional members of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Kerry said that the figure would include a “significantly higher” number of refugee admissions from Syria, past the 10,000 goal it set for this year.

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No official figures have been set for just Syria, though 40,000 refugees would be authorized from the Near East/South Asia, an area that includes Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal, which obtained a copy of the annual refugee report sent to Congress. About 35,000 slots would be given for African refugees and 14,000 slots were “listed as not allocated,” the publication noted.

Kerry also told lawmakers “that if it is possible to do more” in terms of accepting refugees, “we would,” the Washington Post reported.

President Barack Obama is expected to officially release more details next week at the high-level U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

The move comes as the United States joins other global leaders to grapple with the needs of the largest group of globally displaced people since World War II. Part of the urgency comes from a growing number of displaced Syrians fleeing a five-year civil war that has killed 300,000 people since the start of the conflict in 2011, including at least 86,000 civilians.

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More than two dozen mostly Republican governors called to tightly restrict refugee resettlement in their states after last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, France and in San Bernardino, California. And Syrian refugees have also become a flashpoint in the presidential debate. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, for instance, has issued a policy plan for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, alleging that terrorists could game the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Some Republicans, who attended Kerry’s session, were incensed by the plan.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a Trump adviser, said that the “common-sense concerns of the American people are simply ignored as the administration expands its reckless and extreme policies.”

“We must remain compassionate toward refugees but we also need to make sure that we use commonsense,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a statement. “Unfortunately, President Obama unilaterally increases the number of refugees resettled in the United States each year and gives little thought as to how it will impact local communities.”

Studies have in fact shown that refugees can turn around failing local economies. In Utica, New York, educated refugees are “halting the city’s economic decline” in part because they have started small businesses and “have renovated and revitalized whole neighborhoods.” Cleveland, Ohio is another example where initial investment in refugees has paid off, with refugee households and businesses contributing $45 million to the regional economy in 2012. And Detroit, Michigan’s new immigrants have helped to buy an estimated 90,000 empty houses that could put those properties back on the tax roll.