THE TRUMP administration has told Congress it will accept only 15,000 refugees into the country this fiscal year, a record low for the U.S.
The State Department announced the new cap in a note sent just before midnight Wednesday, less than an hour before the start of fiscal 2021. The new ceiling is a 3,000-person dip from the 2020 cap. President Donald Trump has slashed the annual refugee cap repeatedly since taking office in 2017, setting a new record low every year.
The refugee cap determines the maximum number of refugees that the U.S. will accept as part of the country’s formal refugee resettlement program, which started in 1980.
Trump cut the cap to 50,000 in 2017 and then to 45,000 in 2018, 30,000 in 2019 and 18,000 last year.
By contrast, the refugee ceiling averaged about 76,000 during President Barack Obama’s two terms. Under President George W. Bush, the cap averaged about 73,000. It historically fluctuates with global events, and it has been significantly higher in the past.
The State Department said the new ceiling “reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
The department also said that the cap takes into account the backlog of asylum cases. There is no ceiling for asylum cases, which are adjudicated on merit through the immigration court system, separate from refugee admissions. The administration has also moved to dramatically restrict the number of people who are eligible for asylum protections.
The announcement came just hours after Trump raised the issue of refugees during a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota. Minnesota has among the highest number of refugees per capita in the country.
“Another massive issue for Minnesota is the election of Joe Biden’s plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees,” Trump told the crowd, which booed in response. “Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp – and he said that – overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating your hospitals.”
Vice President Joe Biden has said he would set the cap at 125,000 if he is elected president in November.
Refugee organizations and rights groups were quick to denounce the new ceiling.
“The president’s action is disappointing but not surprising. It is part of an overall strategy of fear-mongering and vilification of refugees,” Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said in a statement. “It is also ironic, as hundreds of thousands of already resettled immigrants and refugees are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, providing their fellow Americans with health and other essential services.”
The caps are not always met. The U.S. admitted a record-low 10,900 refugees in fiscal 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest data available.