White House Goal: 40,000 Additional Refugees from Near East, South Asia

By Susan Jones | September 15, 2016 | 6:01 AM EDT

Refugees stream toward Europe. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. State Department has set a goal of admitting 110,000 refugees to the United States in Fiscal 2017, a 29.4 percent increase from the FY 2016 target of 85,000, “but at this point, no country-specific targets have been set,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.

“I do have the regional breakdown here,” Earnest continued. “[T]he regional target for FY 2017 is 40,000 for the Near East and South Asia region.”

The Near East includes Middle Eastern countries and northern Africa. South Asia includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and surrounding countries.

Earnest said vetting the refugees is “not cheap,” and he indicated that President Obama might admit even more of them, if only Republicans would provide more money for that purpose:

“So I'm sure the president would be willing to consider increasing this commitment further if Congress were prepared to provide the resources necessary to get it done.”

Earnest repeated the administration’s assurance that individuals admitted to the United States as refugees have to undergo more rigorous screening and vetting than any other individual that enters the United States.

“The President places our national security at the top of his priority list,” Earnest said.

“At the same time, the President believes that the United States has a responsibility, as a leader on so many issues around the world, to play an important role in bringing refugees to the United States, and this is something that the President expects to discuss at the U.N. next week.”

President Obama plans to host a leaders’ summit on refugees on the sidelines of next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York. Earnest said Obama will “talk about what more countries around the world can do” to alleviate the crisis, as millions of people flee war and famine in their home countries.

“The president is quite proud of the commitments that you have seen from the United States in addressing this issue,” Earnest said.

He added that the United States has “ramped up our commitment in recent years in a way that reflects the responsibility that the United States has to lead on these difficult issues.”

In June, when Obama announced he would lead the summit on refugees, the White House said it would seek to “double” the global number of resettled refugees, putting one million more in school and granting one million more the legal right to work.

A reporter told Earnest that the 110,000 U.S. refugee goal for 2017 “is not even close to doubling” the number of refuges admitted to the U.S., “so I’m wondering, why the limitation?”

“I think the context here is important, Earnest replied. He noted that the 110,000 refugees is 57 percent more than the number admitted to the U.S. in Fiscal Year 2015.

“So I think that does represent a substantial increase in our commitment to addressing the refugee problem around the world.”

Earnest added that the U.S. is the largest donor of humanitarian relief to countries that are resettling Syrian refugees; and he said the U.S. admits more refugees through the U.N. refugee program than the rest of the countries in the world combined.

“That, I think, is an additional indication of just how committed the United States is to fulfilling our responsibility here. But I think what we need to see is a greater commitment around the world to not just shunting this burden off to a handful of countries.

“And I think the other reality here is that the president's commitment to ensuring that the United States plays a leading role on this issue is not shared by a lot of people in Congress, including by a lot of people in the Republican majority in Congress.