Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the Trump administration will cap refugee levels at a record low for 2019 – down from this year’s record low, according to CNN. Refugee admissions to the US will be capped at 30,000, down 33% from 2018’s record low 45,000 ceiling. That 45,000 was a dramatic shift from the 110,000 cap set for 2017 by the Obama administration.
According to NBC, this year’s cap of 45,000 was the lowest number since 1980, when the resettlement program began, and the State Department began recording stats. During the fiscal year of 2018, the US did not meet the 45,000 ceiling, with only about 21,000 refugees admitted.
The announcement met with criticism from refugee advocates who say that the cap shows the Trump administration is pulling back on leadership at a time when the number of refugees is greater than ever.
“The United States is not only abdicating humanitarian leadership and responsibility-sharing in response to the worst global displacement and refugee crisis since World War II, but compromising critical strategic interests and reneging on commitments to allies and vulnerable populations,” the International Rescue Committee said.CNN
Pompeo defended Monday’s announcement, saying that the US is the most generous nation in the world, citing asylum applications as proof.
Pompeo said the number should not be considered as “the sole barometer” of the US’ commitment to humanitarian efforts around the world, adding that the US would “focus on the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country.”
As evidence, Pompeo cited the number of asylum applications expected next year, saying the US will process up to 280,000 such applications in 2019.CNN
“The ultimate goal is the best possible care and safety of these people in need, and our approach is designed to achieve this noble objective,” Pompeo said. “We are and continue to be the most generous nation in the world.”
However, while they are both designed to protect immigrants who fear for their lives, refugee protections and asylum status are two different things.
Refugee protections are granted by the State Department to individuals who apply for that protection before coming to the US. Asylum is sought by individuals who are on American soil and is granted by the Department of Homeland Security. According to CNN, there is no cap on asylum seekers and each year between 20,000 and 25,000 are granted asylum protections. The number of projected asylum seekers is largely driven by immigration on the southern border.
Humanitarian and faith based organizations, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and administration officials have asked the administration not to further limit the numbers of refugees accepted into the US. Per NBC, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and National Security Adviser John Bolton both argued to keep the ceiling at 45,000. Stephen Miller, immigration hardliner and senior adviser to the president, argued to drop the cap to 20,000. The 2019 ceiling of 30,000 is a compromise between the two factions.
Anti-immigration hardliners, like Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, argue that the strict caps on refugees are necessary because refugees pose a terrorist threat. NBC reported earlier this month that the Trump administration ignored an intelligence assessment that stated that refugees do not poses a significant threat to the US. Instead, they wrote their own report that critics believe vastly overestimates the threat refugees and immigrants pose to the nation.
Pompeo states that the ceiling of 30,000 is necessary to provide for security procedures.
“The American people must have complete confidence that everyone admitted to the United States has been vetted,” Pompeo said. “The security checks take time but they are critical.”NBC
Refugee advocates believe the intent of the Trump administration is to reduce the numbers of refugee admissions.
“This is another demonstration that the U.S. is stepping back from global leadership and engagement to protect refugees,” said Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project. “We were told that the slow rates of processing this year were due to the implementation of new security checks and that processing would pick back up. This number shows that was never the intent and the goal has always been to reduce the overall number of refugees admitted.”