The number of Iraqi refugees allowed into the United States rose again in April, reaching the highest level for any month since 2003. But the Bush administration is still falling short of its target of resettling 12,000 by the end of September.
The State Department said Thursday that 974 Iraqi refugees entered the country last month. That was up from 751 in March, 444 in February and 375 in January. Previously the most Iraqis ever admitted to the U.S. in a month since 2003 was 889 last September.
April's figure is approaching the monthly average of 1,000 that the Bush administration set as its goal.
"This is an improvement," said Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group. "But the administration is still below the pace it needs to make its goal of resettling 12,000 Iraqis by the end of the fiscal year."
The new count puts total admissions for the current budget year, which began Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, at 3,601. That gives the administration five months to admit 8,399 more refugees — or about 1,680 each month — to hit its stated goal of 12,000.
Increasing numbers each month
The number allowed into the country each month has increased since January, jumping sharply in the past two months. But the figure dropped steadily in the beginning of the budget year, from 450 in October to 245 in December.
Iraqi refugees are subject to more security checks than those from almost all other nations.
The administration has come under criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers for its poor performance on resettling Iraqi refugees who have fled violence since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Human Rights First, a New York-based civil rights advocacy group, said Thursday the goal of resettling 12,000 Iraqis refugees is still unsatisfactory.
The target is "itself far too low, given the scope of the crisis, the extreme vulnerability of many displaced Iraqi families and the particular responsibility of the U.S.," said Amelia Templeton, an advocate for the group.