The New York Times reports that the Trump administration plans on dropping the ceiling on refugees accepted into the US to 18,000, another record low. That number is a significant decrease from the drop to 30,000 in 2019, which was the previous record low since the beginning of the program in 1980.
The cap of 45,000 in 2018 was not only a record low but a drastic departure from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration for 2017. Last year NBC reported, one faction of the administration which included then-NSA John Bolton and then- UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, argued for keeping the cap at 45,000 while immigration hardliners, Stephen Miller and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, close to the president, argued to slash the ceiling to 20,000. The 30,000 cap was a compromise at the time.
In July, Politico reported that hardliners in the administration, Stephen Miller, John Zadrozny, and Andrew Veprek argued for zero refugee admissions on the basis of “ongoing security concerns and the ability of the US to offer humanitarian protections through the asylum process”.
In a further indication of the Trump administrations acceptances of anti-immigration practices, CNN reported in July that the administration was implementing a regulation which bars most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the US.
According to the Times many of the 18,000 slots alloted by the administration for refugees are already designated for specific groups. 4,000 of the 18,000 are allocated for Iraqis who worked with the US military. 5,000 are reserved for individuals who suffered religious persecution and 1,500 are set aside for Central Americans, which leaves only 7,500 slots remaining.
The administration says the decrease was to help address the increase in people seeking asylum, which the administration expects to be 350,000. On Thursday, the administration said, “President Trump is prioritizing the safety and security of the American people by making sure we do not admit more people than we can vet.”
The statement from the State Department said, “The current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large number of refugees. Prioritizing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in our country is simply a matter of fairness and common sense. Indeed, it would be irresponsible for the United States to go abroad seeking large numbers of refugees to resettle when the humanitarian and security crisis along the southern border already imposes an extraordinary burden on the U.S. immigration system. “
When asked about the impact of the refugee cap on persecuted Christians who seek asylum at the border, Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters, “We’ll turn them back”, the Washington Examiner reports.
The USCIS released a statement from Cuccinelli on Thursday regarding the refugee cap which said, “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. 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 statement also declared that the US is “the most generous country in the world when it comes to humanitarian relief efforts”.
While both are 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.
After CNN reported that flights for some individuals who have already been approved were cancelled, resettlement agencies who have booked travel for approved refugees through October 1 when the new fiscal year begins have expressed concern. A spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration says the moratorium is being extended and the department is working on rescheduling flights contingent on the 2020 admissions cap.
According to a report by USA Refugee Council, 100 offices of resettlement agencies have closed because of the decrease in refugee admissions under the Trump administration. Per CNN, these resettlement agencies are part of a system designed to place refugees into communities and help them integrate.
President of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Krish O’Mara Vignarajah told CNN, “Communities and people of faith across the country are deeply disturbed by this unwarranted decision to turn our backs to those most in need. The American legacy of welcoming refugees defines us as a nation. We admit refugees not because they are American, but because we are American.”