The United States will increase the number of refugees it admits to allow in more people fleeing violence in central America, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.
In a speech at the National Defense University, Kerry said the expansion of the Refugee Admissions Program will be directed toward people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, to “offer them a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey many are currently tempted to begin, making them easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profits.”
The United States already plans to admit 85,000 refugees in the fiscal year that began in October, 15,000 more than in the previous year. That includes 10,000 refugees from Syria, referred by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees.
Kerry did not say how many more Central American refugees would be admitted, and when the expansion would take effect.
President Barack Obama plans to hold a summit at the U.N. General Assembly this fall in which he will urge nations to provide more humanitarian admissions and funding for refugees from around the world.
Refugees already are at the center of a divisive debate in the presidential primary campaigns. Donald Trump has proposed building a wall along the Mexican border, and called for a ban on Muslim immigrants.
The admission of more refugees from Central American countries comes amid an immigration crackdown in which women and children from the region were rounded up and deported after they were denied asylum.
On Monday, more than 100 Democrats signed a letter accusing the Obama administration of “inhumanely” deporting refugees threatened with violence in their home countries. The White House has said it will not stop the raids.
Kerry defended the stepped-up admissions as a response to the worst global refugee crisis since World War II.
“We can both maintain the highest security standards and live up to our best traditions as Americans by welcoming those in need of our help to this great country of ours,” said Kerry. “That’s who we are. That’s what we do.”
After the speech, Kerry headed for a refugee center outside of Washington to meet with a group of refugees. He said he intends to “make sure they know how welcome they are.”