The US State Department has notified Congress the United States anticipates resettling 15,000 refugees in the United States during the fiscal 2021 year, a record low number.
The government estimate, required by US law, is a reduction from a ceiling of 18,000 in fiscal 2020 and comes as President Donald Trump has sought to turn refugees into a political issue to help his re-election bid.
The actual number of refugees admitted by the US tends to be lower than the annual ceiling and under Trump administration policies was fewer than 11,000 in 2020, also a record low, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.
Speaking at a campaign rally on Wednesday night, Trump warned a large crowd of supporters that his Democratic rival Joe Biden would open US borders to refugees and asylum seekers.
“Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp,” Trump said to boos from his supporters in Duluth, Minnesota.
Minnesota, a key swing state in the presidential election, has the largest Somali population in the US and is home to Representative Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American who came to the US as a child under asylum and was elected to Congress in 2018.
Trump’s supporters shouted chants of “lock her up, lock her up, lock her up” directed at Omar.
Facebook announced on September 30 it had removed 15-second Trump campaign advertisements that tied the admission of refugees to coronavirus infections without basis in fact.
The advertisements had featured video images of Biden talking about border security and warned he would increase refugee admissions from Syria, Somalia and Yemen.
“We rejected these ads because we don’t allow claims that people’s physical safety, health or survival is threatened by people on the basis of their national origin or immigration status,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
The State Department notification cited the coronavirus pandemic as a primary reason for the reduction in refugee admissions.
“The president’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 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 State Department said in its notice to Congress.
The Trump administration has adopted a range of policies to prevent and discourage immigration to the US, driving a sharp reduction in the number of refugees admitted. The number of refugees resettled to the US in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, was nearly 85,000.
Meanwhile, the number of refugees worldwide has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. Nearly 80 million people have been forced from their homes by conflicts and persecution, according to the United Nations and other agencies.
Trump administration policy has been to keep refugees in camps and work to secure their return home “to rebuild their lives, their communities and their countries”, the State Department said.
Gregory Maniatis, director of the Open Society’s International Migration Initiative said in a tweet Trump has promoted “anti-refugee hysteria”.
BREAKING: In the dead of night, Trump told Congress the US will accept 15,000 refugees (max) in the fiscal year that starts today—fewest ever. Reagan welcomed as many as 159,252, George H.W. Bush, 132,531.
It’s the last gasp of his anti-refugee hysteria.https://t.co/WGB1InE8WB
— Gregory A. Maniatis (@gmaniatis) October 1, 2020
Representatives Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, faulted the administration for failing to consult with Congress on setting the refugee ceiling before the end of the fiscal year as required by law.
“The administration’s violations will bring our refugee program to a halt, leaving thousands stranded abroad with their lives at risk,” Nadler said.
“This time, refugees – including many who served alongside our troops – will be the victims of the Trump administration’s lawless approach,” Nadler said in a statement issued September 30.
Timing of the refugee announcement is tied by a 1980 refugee law to the budget, or fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30 of the following calendar year.