The Trump administration reduced the cap for the number of refugees who will be allowed to resettle in the US to 30,000 for fiscal year 2019, according to the New York Times.
Previously, the refugee limit had been reduced to 45,000, down from a 110,000 cap established by the Obama administration .
The country is on pace to accept around 21,000 refugees this year and the new cap is the lowest limit of all time, reflecting the Trump administration’s ongoing dismantling of the country’s refugee policies.
“The reduction in refugee admissions for Fiscal Year 2019 is part of a systematic effort by the Trump administration to tear down humanitarian programs long afforded bipartisan support that local communities built over decades,” said Mary Giovagnoli, executive director of the Refugee Council USA, said in a statement.
“The deliberate step-by-painful-step decimation of the resettlement program not only harms vulnerable refugee families and the communities that are ready to welcome them, but also strains the resources and threatens the stability of smaller, poorer refugee host countries left to fill the void created by the withdrawal of U.S. leadership,” she added.
In justifying the decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US faces a backlog of asylum cases that need to be processed, has to protect the safety of citizens, and already provides aid to refugees outside of the US.
"This year's proposed refugee ceiling must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States," he said in a press conference.
The US currently has backlog of 800,000 asylum claims, and 280,000 new cases are expected in the next fiscal year, the Times reports. Many asylum seekers end up waiting years before their cases are resolved, living in a state of perpetual limbo. Although Pompeo said that the administration will accelerate asylum hearings, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for people seeking refuge because the administration has made it harder for asylum cases to be won in general.
For example, the administration has ruled that domestic violence and gang-related violence are not adequate reasons to receive asylum.
Regardless, aid organizations said that the treating asylum seekers and refugees in a zero sum manner is misleading.
“In justifying its policy intention, the Administration has pitted those seeking asylum against refugees,” Nazanin Ash, vice president of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. “A choice between asylum programs and refugee programs is a false one. The Administration has the resources it needs to effectively administer both programs, as historic admissions levels prove."
Pompeo also said that the administration’s first priority is to protect US citizens, suggesting that refugees pose a danger to the country.
In reality, refugees go through, on average, three years of intense vetting from various agencies before they can come to the US, and then numerous years of follow-up checks. And contrary to the Trump administration’s claims, immigrants to the US are less likely to commit crimes than natural-born citizens.
Rather than make it easier for the most vulnerable refugees to get accepted, the Trump administration is also enacting additional barriers, including longer wait times and screening requirements for people aged 14 to 50 from certain countries.
The administration’s policies are happening against a backdrop of the largest refugee crisis in recorded history. More than 25.4 million people are refugees and many more are internally displaced in their home countries.
And the effects of these efforts are already being felt, according to the IRC. During the past fiscal year, only 60 Syrians and 48 Iraqis have been accepted to the country, and Rohingya refugee numbers have dropped by 40%.