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US to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees

A Syrian refugee child held a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in southern Hungary.
A Syrian refugee child held a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in southern Hungary.Muhammed Muheisen/Associated press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, under increasing pressure to demonstrate that the United States is joining European nations in the effort to resettle Syrian refugees, has told his administration to take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the next year.

At a briefing at the White House on Thursday, the press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the United States would "accept at least 10,000 refugees in the next fiscal year," which begins Oct. 1.

Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry, said at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that that the total number of refugees taken in by the United States could rise to more than 100,000, from the current figure of 70,000. State Department officials said that not all of the additional 30,000 would be Syrians, but many would be.

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But Earnest said members of Congress "misunderstood" Kerry when he said the number of refugees could rise to as high as 100,000 next year. Earnest emphasized that the administration had no intention of relaxing the significant and lengthy criminal and terrorist background vetting procedures demanded of refugee applicants, an expensive process that can take 18 to 24 months to complete.

"To scale up to a degree that some members of Congress have in mind would have some significant fiscal consequences," Earnest said.

The United States offered expedited resettlement to refugees of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Earnest said that Syrian refugees would not get similar treatment and that the president would "not sign off on a process that cuts corners" on security guarantees for the United States.

Germany has talked about taking upward of 800,000, and even Venezuela has promised to take 20,000 refugees. By comparison the U.S. effort would be relatively small. Earnest said the German government and people "are demonstrating tremendous generosity and hospitality." Asked whether he would use those same adjectives to describe the United States response, Earnest said: "The challenge that is facing Germany right now is different than the challenge we're facing."

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Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria more than four years ago the United States has taken in only 1,300 refugees.

Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the United States to take in more refugees and provide more aid during a speech on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution; for Republican candidates the issue will become enmeshed in the debate over immigration.