Washington D.C., USA : The United States will allow in a maximum of 30,000 refugees in the 2019 fiscal year, down by 15,000 from this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.
The number is a further reduction of refugees by the Trump administration which previously cut the number from 110,000 set by president Barack Obama toward the end of his administration in 2016.
The number represents the lowest ceiling a president has placed on the refugee program since its creation in 1980, and a reduction of a third from the 45,000-person limit that Mr. Trump set for 2018.
The move is the latest in a series of efforts the president has made to clamp down on immigration to the United States.
The announcement of the lower refugee number is in line with Trump’s other restrictive policies towards immigration, especially from countries in Central and South America, that his opponents have decried but supporters have cheered.
Pompeo justified the reduction from 45,000 this year to 30,000 next year by citing national security grounds, adding that the US needed to be confident that everyone coming in was properly vetted.
He also said the decision to allow in fewer refugees must be viewed in the context of total US humanitarian assistance around the world, which in the 2017 fiscal year was 8 billion dollars, and with consideration of the number of individuals who seek asylum in the US annually.
“Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the full barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world,” Mr. Pompeo said. “This would be wrong.”
“This year’s refugee ceiling reflects the substantial increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum in our country, leading to a massive backlog of outstanding asylum cases and greater public expense,” he added.
Mr. Pompeo said refugees had to be weighed against a backlog of 800,000 asylum seekers — people in the United States who claim a “credible fear” of returning home — who are awaiting a decision by immigration authorities about whether they will be granted status to remain.
But he vastly overstated the numbers. As of the end of June, the Department of Homeland Security reported just under 320,000 people who had claimed asylum and were awaiting a decision from the department about whether they could stay.
About 730,000 additional immigrants were waiting for their cases to be resolved by American courts, according to the Justice Department, including people who had asked for asylum after being apprehended. But that number also included people in deportation or other immigration proceedings.
The new policy anticipates that in addition to resettling up to 30,000 refugees, the US will process more than 280,000 new asylum seekers, Pompeo said. They will join the over 800,000 asylum seekers who are in the US awaiting a judge to hear their claims.
He said processing those asylum cases is a “daunting operational reality” that demands “renewed focus and prioritization.”
Pompeo also said the US maintains its commitment to humanitarian programmes by working to assist refugees as close to their home countries as possible.
He added that the US has admitted more than 5 million people since 2000, most of them as lawful permanent residents from refugee-producing nations.
The US will continue to assist the world’s most vulnerable “while never losing site of our first duty serving the American people,” he said.
Immigrant and advocates condemned the cuts to the refugee program, calling it a callous decision that would also undermine American national security and foreign policy priorities.
Nazanin Ash, the vice president of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, accused the Trump administration of piling on after attacks on the American asylum system, failing to protect unaccompanied minors at the border and withdrawing temporary protected status for Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and others.
“This was an opportunity for the administration to show its humanitarian heart,” Ms. Ash said.
“In justifying its policy intention, the administration has pitted those seeking asylum against refugees,” she said. “The administration has the resources it needs to effectively administer both programs, as historic admissions levels prove.”
The cap does not require the Trump administration to resettle 30,000 refugees; in years past, governments have accepted far fewer than what is legally permitted.
During the administration of President George W. Bush, for example, the program’s ceiling accepted up to 70,000 refugees annually; it was raised to 80,000 during his final year in office. But the government only resettled about 27,000 refugees in 2002, immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and accepted 28,000 the following year.
Mr. Trump, who campaigned promising a “Muslim ban,” and argued for a halt to the admission of Syrian refugees because he argued that they could be a danger to the country, has targeted the refugee resettlement program for cuts since his first days in office.
His travel ban, imposed a week after he was sworn in, temporarily halted the program and limited the number of refugees that could be resettled in the United States to 50,000. That slashed the program from the 110,000 cap that President Barack Obama had put in place before he left office.
Last year, Mr. Miller led an effort, with the support of John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to cut the program even more, to as low as 15,000.
But pushback from Defense and State Department officials, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of the United States mission to the United Nations, who advocated for maintaining the 50,000 level, resulted in a ceiling of 45,000.
Even then, the administration has managed to slow refugee admissions to a trickle, admitting only 20,918 this year — less than half of the limit the president proposed.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the goal of this White House is to cripple the U.S. refugee program,” said J. Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies.
“Not only do they reduce the number to record-low levels, they have no intention of even meeting that number during the fiscal year,” he said. “It further weakens our moral authority and leadership in the world.”