The U.S. has announced plans to expand its refugee admissions program, with a goal of providing more assistance to Central Americans.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced the expansion, on Wednesday, as he outlined U.S. foreign policy goals for the year.
In a speech at National Defense University, Kerry said the new provisions would offer legal and safe alternatives to people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Many people from these countries, said Kerry, had been “tempted” to begin dangerous journeys that made them “easy prey” for human smugglers and traffickers.
"The refugee crisis is not just a Syrian problem, nor a Middle Eastern problem, nor a European or African problem," said Kerry. It is a "global challenge of historic proportions and dimensions," he said.
The State Department said under the expansion plan, the U.S. would collaborate with the United Nations and non-government organizations to identify those in need of refugee protection, such as people who may have been targeted by criminal gangs.
In a statement, the State Department said more than 620,000 refugees had been resettled in the U.S. over the past ten years, including nearly 70,000 during fiscal 2015.
Kerry also took a swipe at critics of U.S. refugee resettlement efforts.
He said lately, U.S. efforts to help refugees had taken place “against a backdrop of some pretty nasty politics” that he said was designed to “scare” Americans.
Some of that criticism has come from Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. During recent campaign stumps, Trump has said that Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. “could be ISIS.”
Later Wednesday, Kerry met with refugees at a Washington-area center. He also said President Barack Obama would host a summit on providing assistance to refugees on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this fall.
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Iran Thanked for Freeing US Sailors
Kerry’s spoke just hours after the Pentagon confirmed that Iran had released 10 sailors, a day after they were detained for drifting into Iranian waters.
Senior administration officials said Kerry “engagement immediately” with his counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, on Tuesday, after being made aware of the incident.
On Wednesday, Kerry thanked Iranian authorities for their “quick and appropriate response.” He said the sailors had been treated well, provided with food and blankets and assisted with their return to the fleet.
“We can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago,” said Kerry.
The incident took place as Iran nears completion of requirements of a nuclear deal with world powers, a move that will provide Tehran with relief from international sanctions.
Kerry said once finalized, the U.S. would continue to closely monitor implementation of the nuclear agreement to “ensure that the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is removed as a threat to Middle East security and global peace.”
Syria/ IS High US Priorities
The secretary highlighted foreign policy goals outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address, on Tuesday.
Dealing with the conflict in Syria as well as its refugee crisis and violent extremism would be a top U.S. priority, said Kerry.
“Degrading and defeating Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] is the first pillar of our strategy,” said Kerry, who added that working with allies to prevent the spread of violence and to provide humanitarian assistance were also central priorities.
His speech came on the heels of the State of the Union address by President Obama. The president and Kerry both outlined U.S. foreign policy goals for the year.
Kerry said degrading and defeating Islamic State militants was the first "pillar" of the U.S. strategy. He said another goal was for the U.S. and its partners to work together to keep violence from spreading.