The Trump administration is planning to cap the number of refugees admitted into the United States at 30,000, the lowest limit set in more than 38 years.
The Monday announcement sets refugee quotas for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins October 1st.
NBC News reports that cutting down on refugee entries has been a hallmark of President Trump’s policy. Last fiscal year had an entry limit of 45,000, which was then the lowest set since the State Department began tracking refugee arrivals in 1980. Even with the steep reduction this year, only 21,000 refugees were allowed entry to the United States.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the nation’s currently facing an unprecedented immigration crisis, with at least 280,000 asylum-seekers clamoring along the border.
Pompeo’s take on the matter is unconventional: according to the New York Times, the secretary of state believes it’s more important to prioritize the needs of asylum-seekers over refugees.
Asylum-seekers, at least when their applications are approved, are prospective immigrants who are able to cite a ‘credible fear’ of returning to their home countries. Refugees, on the other hand, have already met official criteria: they’re recognized as needing protection and resettlement.
“Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the full barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world,” Pompeo said on Monday. “That 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,” he said.
Along with the 280,000 asylum-seekers expected to enter the United States in the coming year, Pompeo says the government’s struggling to stay atop a backlog of close to 800,000 applications.
But the Times claims that Pompeo’s facts are vastly overstated, with the latter figure including individuals who’d asked for asylum while awaiting deportation proceedings.
Immigration advocates have claimed the administration is manipulating public policy to keep refugees out, all while putting up a charitable front.
“This was an opportunity for the administration to show its humanitarian heart,” said Nazanin Ash, vice president for policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee.
“In justifying its policy intention, the administration has pitted those seeking asylum against refugees,” she said. “The administration has the resources it needs to effectively administer both programs, as historic admissions levels prove.”
Efforts from within the White House and Trump’s top-level staff have aimed for even lower caps on refugee arrivals. Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller purportedly proposed a limit of 15,000 per year.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the goal of this White House is to cripple the U.S. refugee program,” said J. Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies.
“Not only do they want to reduce the number to record-low levels, they have no intention of even meeting that number during the fiscal year,” Appleby said. “It further weakens our moral authority and leadership in the world.”