Trump administration announces further slash in refugee program to historic low

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The Trump administration proposed Thursday to further slash the country’s refugee program, a move that would bring the refugee population to an all-time low.

The announcement to reduce how many refugees will be admitted into the United States during the new fiscal year, which started Thursday, was posted near midnight Wednesday by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the notice, officials said the administration would allow 15,000 refugees to enter the United States during fiscal year 2020-2021, an almost 17% reduction from last year’s 18,000 refugee cap, and an 82% cut since Trump took office. Before the president’s proposal becomes official, it needs to be approved by Congress.

The Miami Herald obtained the 31-page proposal, which has yet to be made public.

“Given the dire situation of nearly 80 million displaced people around the world, the mission of American diplomacy is more important than ever,” the State Department said in its announcement. “The President’s proposal … reflects the administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

It continued: “The President’s proposal … reaffirms America’s enduring commitment to assist the world’s most vulnerable people while fulfilling our first duty to protect and serve the American people.”

Trump’s last-minute proposal before the Oct. 1 deadline to submit the new refugee cap has parallels to last year’s announcement, which was also made shortly before the fiscal year began on Oct. 1 after weeks of silence on the subject by the administration. Trump announced then that he would slash the Refugee Resettlement program cap from 30,000 to 18,000, making it the third consecutive year that the administration trimmed the program. During President Barack Obama’s final year in office, the cap was at 85,000.

The current cap of 15,000 is a historic low for the program, which was launched in 1980.

The president’s office said that further cuts to the refugee program will help alleviate the “massive” 1.1 million asylum-request backlog that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the government must prioritize “those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.”

Citing the health crisis, the Trump administration temporarily suspended refugee admissions into the U.S. from March 18 until July 29.

Despite last fiscal year’s low target of 18,000, the administration attained only about 65% of allotted admissions – resettling only 11,814 refugees this fiscal year, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement agency that has helped hundreds of thousands of refugees with aid since 1939.

The record-low admissions figures have also disproportionately impacted certain groups. Admissions of Muslim refugees have declined to just 2,503, down from approximately 38,900 in 2016 and approximately 4,900 in 2019, federal data shows.

Additionally, last fiscal year the Trump administration set aside 4,000 slots for Iraqi allies who assisted U.S. interests in their home country. However, it fell drastically short, resettling only 123 individuals in this category, or just 3% of the admissions goal.

“At a time of unprecedented global need, today’s decision to further cut the refugee admissions ceiling is a complete abdication of our humanitarian and moral duty,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, who leads the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

During fiscal year 2019-20, Texas, Washington, New York and California resettled roughly a quarter of all refugees, taking in nearly 8,100 refugees, according to the Pew Research Center.

Since 2002, California has resettled the most refugees (about 108,600), followed by Texas (88,300), New York (58,500) and Florida (48,700).

In the proposal, the Trump administration says that “by focusing on ending the conflicts that drive displacement in the first place, and by providing overseas humanitarian assistance to protect and assist displaced people, we can prevent the destabilizing effects of such displacement on affected countries and their neighbors.”

“The United States seeks to enable the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their home countries – the solution that most refugees prefer,” the report says. “Therefore, we pursue diplomatic solutions to crises around the world, such as our support for the legitimate government of Venezuela in the face of the illegitimate Maduro regime’s tyranny.”

This year’s proposed refugee resettlement program has specific allocations for people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the U.S. has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba, and Venezuela.

In the report, Venezuelan refugees — along with refugees from Australia, Nauru, Hong Kong and Cuba — are given a shared allotment of 5,000 admissions. Refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras were given a shared allotment of 1,000 admissions.

Displaced Iraqis, including refugees from, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, were given a 4,000 shared allotment, while 5,000 spots are earmarked for “refugees who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion.”


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