The Trump administration intends to slash the number of refugees allowed into the US in the next fiscal year to 18,000, the fewest since the government began its refugee program in 1980, the State Department announced Thursday.
The drastic cut in admissions is the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration that have decimated the country’s refugee program designed to admit those fleeing dangerous conditions, and forced US organizations that help welcome refugees to lay off staff and close offices.
Last year, the administration capped the number of refugees at 30,000, a significant reduction from previous years, and far fewer than the 110,000 allowed in the final year of the Obama administration. The cap does not necessarily mean immigration officials will actually admit that many refugees, and instead acts as a ceiling of the number that could be admitted in the fiscal year.
"In keeping with that goal, the president has proposed that we resettle 18,000 refugees from around the world, which will be in addition to the hundreds of thousands of asylum applicants we will process," said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. "This domestic support of refugees and asylum seekers is in addition to our commitment of billions of dollars to support refugees and other displaced people around the world in accordance with the President’s 2017 National Security Strategy."
The planned cap on refugees is broken down into specific categories, with 5,000 dedicated to those suffering religious persecution; 4,000 for Iraqis who assisted the US government; 1,500 for refugees from the Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle; and 7,500 for others. The official determination for refugees will be submitted by the administration after a consultation period with Congress.
The decision to slash the refugee program by nearly half was swiftly criticized by humanitarian groups.
"Today’s refugee admissions announcement is immoral, and un-American. It is yet another shameful marker for an administration already in a race to the bottom of inhumane policies that betray everything our nation stands for," said Daryl Grisgraber, Oxfam America humanitarian policy lead. "Welcoming those in need of refuge is a fundamental part of our national story, and the refugee resettlement program has been a lasting symbol of that continuing tradition. We are appalled by this Administration’s disdain for one of the US’ most celebrated and successful displays of solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable people."
Earlier this month, Cuccinelli said the US Supreme Court’s decision to allow the administration to deny asylum to those who crossed through Mexico could help the administration boost its refugee program. Senior administration officials on a call with reporters said, however, that the new ceiling would help assist them in focusing their resources on a backlog of asylum cases that has soared above 1 million.
Also on Thursday, President Trump signed an executive order directing officials to only resettle refugees in "which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program."
A senior administration official said the executive order would help ensure that communities are prepared and able to accept refugees. This fiscal year, the US has admitted around 29,800 refugees, near the ceiling previously set by the administration.
"Through this Executive Order, the administration is breaking with over forty years of precedent by limiting where refugees can be resettled in the US," said Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of resettlement, asylum and integration at the International Rescue Committee. "This measure completely ignores the welcome that communities have provided to refugees, as well as the important contributions resettled refugees have made to these communities all across the country.”