US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States would cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at 30,000 for the 2019 fiscal year, a move rights advocates described as “shameful” and “outrageous”.
The cap, announced on Monday, is a sharp drop from a limit of 45,000 the US set for this year, which was about half the number of refugees admitted to the country in 2016.
“We proposed resettling up to 30,000 refugees under the new refugee ceiling as well as processing more than 280,000 asylum seekers,” Pompeo said in an announcement at the State Department, calling the US “the most generous nation in the world when it comes to protection-based immigration.”
“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.
Refugee advocates quickly condemned the lower cap.
“Today’s announcement … is a shameful abdication of our humanity in the face of the worst refugee crisis in history,” Jennifer Quigley, of Human Rights First, said in a statement.
Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal called the new cap “outrageous”.
“The Trump administration already accepted a historically low amount of refugees,” Jayapal tweeted.
The Trump administration already accepted a historically low amount of refugees. These new restrictions are outrageous.
I came here at age 16 as an immigrant and today I am a congresswoman. Who could these refugees fleeing violence be if we gave them the chance? https://t.co/eGqVKMEt1U
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) September 17, 2018
Ryan Mace, a grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist at Amnesty International, said the announcement “demonstrates another undeniable political attack against people who have been forced to flee their homes.”
He added in a statement: “This is the lowest goal in the history of the programme, and compounded by this administration’s history of creating road block after road block for refugees to arrive, this must be perceived as an all-out attack against our country’s ability to resettle refugees both now and in the future.”
Pompeo said the new limit reflected the administration’s preference for settling refugees closer to their home countries, something President Donald Trump has said would be cheaper than admitting them to the United States.
Pompeo said the decision was also based on security concerns. “We must continue to responsibly vet applicants to prevent the entry of those who might do harm to our country,” he said.
The refugee ceiling of 45,000 set last year was the lowest since 1980, when the modern refugee programme was established. The US is on track to admit only 22,000 refugees this year, about half the maximum allowed.
Trump campaigned in 2016 promising tight restrictions on immigration, and his administration has sharply reduced refugee admissions through executive orders and closed-door decisions in the past year and a half.
In the last year, the administration has tightened security vetting procedures that current and former officials say have slowed admission of refugees.
In addition to far lower admissions overall, the type of refugee admitted has changed under Trump, a Reuters analysis of government data shows. The percentage who are Muslim is now a third what it was two years ago; the percentage who are Europeans has tripled.
The shift has led to striking imbalances. Refugees admitted to the US from the small European country of Moldova, for example, now outnumber those from Syria by three to one, although the number of Syrian refugees worldwide outnumbers the total population of Moldova.