US is immigrant nation, should welcome refugees: John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at an event with German President Joachim Gauck to commemorate the arrival of a segment of the Berlin Wall that will be displayed in the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the Department of State in Washington, DC, USA o
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at an event with German President Joachim Gauck to commemorate the arrival of a segment of the Berlin Wall that will be displayed in the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the Department of State in Washington, DC, USA on Oct 7, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry rebuked those opposed to welcoming Syrian refugees on Friday, insisting that immigrants built and defined America as a nation.

Speaking at an event at the State Department to mark Global Diaspora Week, Kerry dismissed calls for the United States to seal its borders to outsiders.

"Immigrants built America and immigrants continue to make America what it is today," he declared, to applause from delegates celebrating immigrant communities.

Kerry defended the decision to increase the number of refugees the United States will admit from around the world next year to 100,000, including 10,000 Syrians.

"It is rightly a point of pride that the American people have a history of welcoming those who are in urgent need of a safe haven," he said.

"That's part of who we are. It's the American DNA. It's how most of this country came to be here."

Some in America, in particular conservative candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, have condemned plans to admit more refugees.

There have been particular concerns about migrants fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq, amid concerns that jihadist infiltrators will be among them.

But President Barack Obama has ordered his government to speed up the process of accepting Syrian refugees, amid a humanitarian crisis in Europe and the Middle East.