Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Corky Siemaszko

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Wednesday the U.S. is expanding its refugee admission program to help more people from Central America escape the chaos in their countries.

“That is who we are, that is what we do,” Kerry said at an address at the National Defense University. “The refugee crisis is not just a Syrian issue.”

It is, Kerry said, a global challenge that “tests our values, our self-confidence in our very humanity.”

Kerry said the expansion will aim to help 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.”

Kerry did not say how many more Central American refugees would be admitted or when the expansion would start.

"We can both maintain the highest security standards and live up to the best traditions as Americans by welcoming those in need or our help to this great country of ours," he said.

The U.S. already plans to admit 85,000 refugees in the fiscal year that started in October — 15,000 more than in the previous year. And 10,000 of those are Syrians fleeing civil war.

Kerry’s remarks were yet more pushback by the Obama administration against the anti-refugee stances that Donald Trump and the other Republican presidential candidates have taken.

And they came as the White House has taken heat from fellow Democrats and Hispanic groups for taking steps to deport escapees from Guatemala, El Salvador and other Central American countries – mostly young mothers with children — whose asylum requests were denied.