THE Donald Trump administration said on Thursday it plans to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, the lowest number in the history of the modern refugee program.
In a move immediately decried by immigrant advocates as an affront to the nation’s humanitarian commitments, the administration said it had to shift focus to processing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum claims, most of which are filed by migrants from Central America crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle a large number of refugees,” the State Department said in a statement.
At the same time, President Donald Trump issued an executive order saying his administration would seek the approval of state and local governments to resettle refugees in their communities, in a shift for a federally directed program.
Trump has made cutting immigration a centrepiece of his presidency. One of his first acts after assuming office in January 2017 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.
The proposed new number includes specific carve-outs for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, a senior administration official told reporters.
Of the proposed 18,000 spots, 4,000 would be reserved for Iraqis, 5,000 for those fleeing religious persecution and 1,500 for people from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. That leaves 7,500, or roughly 40%, for all others.
When reports began circulating about plans to dramatically cut resettlement, the administration faced public criticism from evangelical leaders who said an agenda supporting religious freedom around the world should go hand in hand with protection for persecuted refugees.
A senior administration official discussing the move on Thursday said that the specific allocation for religious minorities would be an improvement over previous years where broad allocations were made per region.