By Miriam Jordan
The Obama administration plans to raise the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 110,000 in the 2017 fiscal year starting Oct. 1, from 85,000 this fiscal year, according to an annual refugee report to Congress obtained by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama was widely expected to announce an increase in the U.S. commitment ahead of a summit on refugees that he is convening next week during the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
The 110,000 target for 2017 for individuals fleeing persecution and conflict around the world represents a nearly 30% increase over this fiscal year and an almost 60% increase over the 70,000 admitted in 2015.
The last year that the U.S. committed to resettling as many refugees was in 1995, when President Bill Clinton set the ceiling at 112,000.
Each year, the president makes a determination of how many refugees will be admitted into the U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry presented the new target, outlined in the report to Congress, in a closed session to members of the House and Senate judiciary committees on Tuesday.
As he left the meeting, Mr. Kerry refused to provide details, saying he was “going to wait until the president releases it.”
A State Department official confirmed that Mr. Kerry had held the closed briefing regarding the president’s plan to admit refugees and said the official determination would be issued in coming weeks.
Following terrorist attacks in Paris and the U.S., the resettlement of Muslim refugees, particularly from Syria, has become a contested issue at the state level and in the presidential campaign.
Last year, Republican governors in roughly two dozen states voiced opposition to receiving Syrians, and some states tried to halt resettlement with lawsuits, which they lost.
Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Immigration who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said, the “common-sense concerns of the American people are simply ignored as the administration expands its reckless and extreme policies.”
The number of Syrian arrivals has accelerated in recent months, and the U.S. has exceeded its goal of admitting 10,000 in fiscal 2016.
It aims to admit “a significantly higher number” in fiscal 2017, according to the report, which didn’t cite a figure. The report said 40,000 refugees would be authorized from the Near East/South Asia, which includes Syria, the most of any region. The second-largest number, 35,000, would come from Africa. A total of 14,000 slots were listed as not allocated.
On Sept. 20, President Obama will host the “Leaders’ Summit on Refugees” with a view to bolster refugee resettlement as the world grapples with the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“The administration is trying to send a signal to other countries that they should increase the number they resettle,” said Jennifer Quigley, an advocacy strategist for refugee protection with Human Rights First, a nonprofit group.
However, she noted that funding for U.S. resettlement still isn’t secure. The House and the Senate indicated earlier this year that they might limit spending on refugee resettlement in this year’s budget, which would be unprecedented.
“Congress could hinder the ability of the U.S. to resettle refugees by limiting the amount of money going to the effort,” Ms. Quigley said.
More than five million Syrians have been displaced as a result of the conflict in their home country. The U.S. has thus far committed nearly $5.6 billion in humanitarian assistance since the crisis erupted, more than any other donor, according to the report.