US President Donald Trump appears to be ignoring a deadline to establish how many refugees will be allowed into the United States next year, raising uncertainty about the future of the 40-year-old resettlement programme that has been dwindling under his administration.
The 1980 Refugee Act requires presidents to issue their determination before October 1, the start of the fiscal year. With only hours to go Wednesday, the Trump administration had not scheduled consultations with Congress that are required before setting the annual figure.
There was no immediate comment from the White House, which usually announces the target numbers, or the Departments of State or Homeland Security, which are involved in making the determination.
Democratic legislators blasted the administration for not meeting its obligation.
Trump’s violation of the 1980 law “will bring our refugee admissions program to a halt, leaving thousands stranded abroad with their lives at risk,” New York Representative Jerrold Nadler, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and California Representative Zoe Lofgren, who is chairwoman of the Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee, said in a statement.
Trump froze this year’s admissions in March, citing a need to protect American jobs as fallout from the coronavirus pandemic crashed the economy. Advocates fear the government is intentionally delaying its plans for the 2021 fiscal year as a way to eventually eliminate the refugee programme.
The International Refugee Assistance Project’s Policy Director Sunil Varghese called on Trump to announce the numbers on Tuesday during a press call, saying the US refugee admissions programme “is virtually at a standstill, and now we are … waiting and advocating for the president to fulfil his statutory requirement to consult with Congress”.
No more refugees can be admitted after Thursday until the president sets the ceiling for the new year.
“We’re concerned the administration may delay the announcement indefinitely,” said Jacinta Ma of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration is committed to the country’s history of leading the world in providing a safe place for refugees.
“We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so,” Pompeo told reporters in Rome on the sidelines of a conference on religious freedom organised by the US embassy. “Certainly so long as President Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”
But advocates said the government’s actions do not show that. Since taking office, Trump has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country by more than 80 percent reflecting his broader efforts to drastically reduce both legal and illegal immigration.
The US allowed in slightly more than 10,800 refugees – a little more than half of the 18,000 cap set by Trump for 2020 – before the State Department suspended the programme because of the coronavirus.
The 18,000 cap was already the lowest in the history of the programme. In addition, the State Department announced last week that it would no longer provide some statistical information on refugee resettlement, creating more concerns.
Many resettlement offices have closed because of a drop in federal funding, which is tied to the number of refugees placed in the US.