On Thursday, the Trump administration said it has decided to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, the lowest in the history of the modern refugee program.
The move has been heavily criticized by immigrant advocates as an affront to the nation’s humanitarian commitments, the administration said it had shift focus to processing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum claims. Most of the claims are filed by migrants from Central America crossing the US-Mexico border.
The State Department said in a statement, “The current burdens on the US immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large number of refugees.”
On the other side, President Trump issued an executive order saying his administration would seek the approval of state and local governments and local governments to resettle refugees in their communities, in a shift for a federally directed program.
During the presidentship of Trump, cutting immigration has become a centerpiece. In January 2017, after assuming office one of his first acts was to issue an order capping the maximum number of refugees that year at 50,000 less than half the number former President Barack Obama had set a few months earlier.
A senior administration official told reporters, the suggested new number includes specific carve-outs for US national security and foreign policy interests. Among the 18,000 proposed spots, 4000 would be reserved for Iraqis while 5000 for those fleeing religious persecution and 1500 for people from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. That leaves 7,500, or roughly 40%, for all others.
At the starting of the reports circulating about plans to dramatically reduce resettlement, the administration faced public criticism from religious leaders who said an agenda backing religious freedom around the world should go hand in hand with protection for persecuted refugees.
While discussing the move, a senior official said on Thursday that the exact allocation for religious minorities would be an improvement over previous years where broad allocations were made per region.
Over the objections of senior officials in the Department of Defense, the refugee cap reduced 45,000 for 2018 and 30,000 for 2019 who view the program as crucial and building allies in US military campaigns oversees.