“The president has directed his team to consider how we can further scale up our response and one thing that the United States can do is to begin to admit more Syrian refugees into the United States,” Earnest told reporters. “The president has directed his team to scale up that number next year and he's informed his team that he would like them to accept, at least make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.”
Obama, acknowledging the crisis today during a conference call with U.S. rabbis ahead of the Jewish New Year, said, “We’ve got to do more.” The president said some of the challenges the United States is confronting are bureaucratic, legal and statutory issues.
Earnest's announcement came a day after Secretary of State John Kerry proposed that the United States admit an additional 5,000 refugees from across the globe next year, which would increase the total number of refugees allowed in the country to 75,000 in 2016.
Earnest said the United States will take in about 1,500 Syrian refugees in FY2015, which ends at the end of the month.
He added that financial assistance is “by far the most effective way” for the United States to meet this urgent humanitarian need, by providing Syrians with medical supplies, food, water and education.
"Now we know the scale of this problem. It's significant. And there are millions of people who have been driven from their homes because of this violence," he said. "We know that admitting that it certainly is not feasible for millions of Syrians to come to this country, but what we can do is make sure that we are doing everything we can to try to provide for their basic needs.”
The refugees would go through the "most robust security process" and Obama's intent is not to "cut corners on security protocols," the White House said.
The current cap on refugees the United States accepts annually from all countries is 70,000. It's unclear whether the 10,000 Syrians next year would be within that cap or in addition to it.
Either way, the nonprofit Human Rights First slammed the numbers as insufficient. “This is not leadership, it is barely a token contribution given the size and scale of the global emergency," the New York-based advocacy group said in a statement.
"The administration’s announcement that it will commit to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees is far too little. Resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees is only a drop in the bucket toward providing protection to the more than 4 million Syrians who have fled their country due to horrific violence and persecution."
The organization urged Obama to commit to resettling at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.
Republicans have decried the administration's announcement, citing national security concerns.
"The President wants to surge thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States, in spite of consistent intelligence community and federal law enforcement warnings that we do not have the intelligence needed to vet individuals from the conflict zone," House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote in a statement. "We also know that ISIS wants to use refugee routes as cover to sneak operatives into the West."