Donald Trump’s administration has announced plans to let only 15,000 refugees resettle in the United States in the 2021 fiscal year that began on Thursday, setting another record low in the history of the modern refugee program.
The US state department said the ceiling reflects the Trump administration’s prioritizing of the “safety and wellbeing of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”
Trump, seeking re-election on 3 November, has slashed refugee admissions every year since taking office in 2017.
Critics have said that the United States under Trump has abandoned its longstanding role as a safe haven for persecuted people and that cutting refugee admissions undermines other foreign policy goals.
The refugee cap was cut to 18,000 in the 2020 fiscal year that ended on Wednesday, and only 11,814 refugees were resettled, according to the latest government figures, as increased vetting by the Trump administration and the coronavirus pandemic slowed arrivals.
US presidents typically set yearly refugee levels around the 1 October beginning of each fiscal year. Under US law, the president must consult Congress before finalizing the annual number of refugees it plans to accept, but the determination is ultimately set by the White House.
The 2021 plan lays out specific allocations, including 5,000 slots for refugees who suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion, 4,000 slots for refugees from Iraq who helped the US, and 1,000 slots for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That leaves 5,000 for all others.
Even though 4,000 slots were allocated for Iraqis affiliated with the United States during the 2020 fiscal year, only 123 had been resettled as of 25 September, according to government figures.
A law called the Refugee Act of 1980 created the modern US refugee resettlement program. The cap set for refugees in the subsequent four decades has never been as low as the one planned for 2021. Before Barack Obama left office, he set the cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 refugees, but Trump slashed that in half soon after becoming president.
Joe Biden has pledged to raise refugee admissions to 125,000 a year if he defeats Trump. Advocates have said the refugee program could take years to recover after Trump-era reductions.
Tens of thousands of refugees are in the pipeline for arrival to the United States, many with applications far along in the approval and vetting process.
Krish Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which helps resettle recently arrived refugees, wrote on Twitter that the Trump administration’s cuts represent “a complete abdication of our moral duty and all that we stand for as a nation.“