The Trump Administration, pursuing its approach against immigrants and refugees, plans to cap the number of refugees for resettlement in the US to a record low of 30,000 per year.
The program had already been scaled back, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new limit on Monday. He said it reflected the “daunting operational reality” of addressing a “humanitarian crisis”.
The figure, the lowest since the refugee program was launched in 1980, is a further cut of 1/3 from the 45,000-person limit that had been set for 2018.
The Obama Administration left office with a quote of 110,000 refugees per year. As soon as Donald Trump entered the White House, he issued a temporary cap of 50,000.
Monday step is another success for Trump’s hard-right, anti-immigration advisor Stephen Miller. Since the Administration entered office in January 2017, Miller has sought a cap as low as 15,000 refugees per year.
Officials in the Defense and State Department, including Pompeo, had supported maintaining the 45,000-refugee ceiling.
Because of the battle, the Secretary of State kept the final recommendation secret until his announcement on Monday afternoon. He presented Miller’s argument that priority should be on handling immigrants arriving at the US border, rather than refugees from overseas:
Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the full barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world. 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.
Pompeo distorted figures to make his argument, arguing that a backlog of 800,000 asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision by immigration authorities.
In fact, as of the end of June, the Department of Homeland Security said under 320,000 people had claimed asylum and awaiting a decision.
About 730,000 additional immigrants are waiting for their cases to be resolved by immigration courts, according to the Justice Department. Some of these have claimed asylum, but other are in deportation or other immigration proceedings.
Trump campaigned on the promise of a “Muslim ban” on entry to the US. He and advisors like Miller immediately instituted a bar on admission to citizens from several mainly-Muslim countries, eventually winning a Supreme Court battle after months of dispute, as well as slashing refugee admissions.
Between October 2017 and April 2018, the US admitted only 44 Syrian refugees, from a conflict where more than 11 million people have been displaced.
J. Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies, summarized the Administration’s approach:
It is becoming increasingly clear that the goal of this White House is to cripple the U.S. refugee program.
Not only do they reduce the number to record-low levels, they have no intention of even meeting that number during the fiscal year. It further weakens our moral authority and leadership in the world.