White House reportedly sets refugee cap at a historic low

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported that the Trump administration plans to lower the refugee cap for the next fiscal year to a paltry 45,000, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions. That figure is significantly lower than previous caps, which topped out between 70,000 and 110,000 and is the lowest since 1980, according to the Journal.

In January, as one of his first actions in office, President Trump signed a controversial executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending refugee admission for up to 120 days — indefinitely for those from Syria. He also capped refugee admissions overall at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, claiming that allowing in more people “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Several lower court rulings prevented the ban from fully being implemented, though travelers and green card holders were initially left stranded at airports across the country.

In June, the Supreme Court allowed certain parts of the ban to go into effect for six of the original seven Muslim-majority countries, including a provision which barred travelers who had no “bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.” A “bona fide relationship” was defined as anyone with a formal connection in the United States, such as an international student or a person working for a U.S. company. It also extended to anyone with a parent, child, or sibling in the country.

The 50,000-person cap Trump had initially stated was also in effect, though the State Department said on July 12 that it had already surpassed that cap by 86. Speaking with NPR at the time, an official said the department would “set the cutoff at the end of the day, instead of at the exact number 50,000, to keep the process ‘orderly.’”

Senior administration officials are set to discuss this latest cap reduction with members of Congress on Wednesday, the Journal reported.

Although State Department officials reportedly recommended the 45,000-person cap, the outlet also noted that the Department of Homeland Security had recommended a “figure closer to 40,000.” That number is in stark contrast with the figure set by President Obama in 2016; in September that year, Obama announced that the United States would accept as many as 110,000 refugees, with a senior official stating that the decision was “consistent with our belief that all countries should do more to help the world’s most vulnerable people.” Trump lowered that number to the current 50,000 in January.

In September, a bipartisan group of senators — including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John McCain, (R-AZ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — sent a letter to Trump, insisting that the 50,000 figure was “insufficient” to address the various, ongoing humanitarian crises around the world.

“The 50,000 number recommended in the President’s budget request is insufficient when compared to the millions of people who have been forced to flee their countries,” they wrote. “[It would be] the lowest refugee admissions goal since enactment of the 1980 Refugee Act, preventing thousands of people from enriching American communities while seeking safety, protection, and an opportunity to provide a better future for themselves and their families in the U.S. The current global humanitarian crisis requires strong American leadership. To reflect that, we request that your Presidential Determination for the upcoming fiscal year set a robust refugee admissions goal.”

On Tuesday, Hans Van de Weerd, vice president of U.S. Programs with the International Rescue Committee said in a statement that the IRC was “disturbed” by the reports of a 45,000-person cap.

“Reports of a ceiling as low as 45,000 are deeply troubling at a time of global crisis,” he said. “Whether Rohingya refugees or ‘Syrian babies,’ this administration’s claims of concern ring hollow when paired with the stifling of one of its most effective means of rescuing and reinventing lives — resettlement. The decision to arbitrarily slash refugees admitted would represent a sad day for America, and a bad day for the world’s refugees.”

As the Wall Street Journal noted on Tuesday, the president has had the “sole authority” to set annual caps since 1980. Prior to this year, the cap had not been set lower than 67,000.
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