The Trump administration will cap refugee admissions at the lowest levels since the refugee resettlement program began, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday. It’s the second year in a row the administration has set the cap at a record low.
The US will cap refugee admissions at 30,000 in 2019, a 33% drop from 2018’s record-low ceiling of 45,000.
Pompeo said the number should not be considered as “the sole barometer” of the US’ commitment to humanitarian efforts around the world, adding that the US would “focus on the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country.”
As evidence, Pompeo cited the number of asylum applications expected next year, saying the US will process up to 280,000 such applications in 2019.
“The ultimate goal is the best possible care and safety of these people in need, and our approach is designed to achieve this noble objective,” Pompeo said. “We are and continue to be the most generous nation in the world.”
Refugee resettlement agencies, immigrant rights groups and religious leaders had been pushing for the administration to increase the cap, noting that the number of refugees who need help around the world is larger than ever.
But Monday’s announcement isn’t a surprise. Administration officials have been moving to scale back refugee resettlement in the US since President Donald Trump took office.
Last year, officials lowered the cap to 45,000, a dramatic decrease from the ceiling of 110,000 that President Barack Obama’s administration had set for the 2017 fiscal year.
And the US isn’t even going to admit that many. CNN reported in June that the US is on track to admit the fewest number of refugees since its resettlement program began in 1980, tens of thousands below the cap amount.
Monday’s announcement was met with swift condemnation from refugee resettlement organizations.
“The United States is not only abdicating humanitarian leadership and responsibility-sharing in response to the worst global displacement and refugee crisis since World War II, but compromising critical strategic interests and reneging on commitments to allies and vulnerable populations,” the International Rescue Committee said.
Pompeo’s assertion that the US will process up to 310,000 refugees and asylum seekers also makes a false equivalence between the two issues.
Asylum and refugee protections are designed on similar grounds to protect immigrants who are being persecuted. Refugee protections are granted to immigrants who are still abroad, whereas asylum is reserved for immigrants who have already arrived on US soil.
There is no cap on asylum numbers, and in recent years, roughly 20,000 to 25,000 asylum seekers have been granted protections annually, according to the latest available government statistics.
There are two resource and funding streams each for refugees and asylum cases.
They also apply differently — with the State Department handling refugee admissions and the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice handling asylum claims. The interviewers who conduct screenings, however, can be deployed to handle either kind of interview.
But immigration hardliners and the administration have sought to curtail to the growing number of asylum claims each year, driven in large part by immigrants arriving at the southern border.
The number announced Monday reflects a compromise between hardliners in the Trump administration, such as Stephen Miller, who favored capping the ceiling at 20,000, and Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who argued to keep it at 45,000, according to several senior administration officials.
Miller personally has lobbied cabinet officials to support the President’s desires to focus on border security, officials told CNN, and the issue was discussed at a secret Principals Committee meeting on Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of asylum applications are pending between the immigration courts, run by the Department of Justice, and applications to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, run by the Department of Homeland Security.
Depending on how a person is applying for asylum, and where in the process the application is, the case could be pending before either body.