Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced on Sept. 18 that the Trump administration will move to lower the refugee cap for the second time during his presidency. The number of refugees will be capped at 30,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, a decrease from the already historically low cap of 45,000.
His announcement was met by a shout of, “Has the U.S. lost its heart?” The 30,000 cap proposed would be the lowest limit ever placed on refugee admissions since the program began in 1980, according to the Washington Post. The Trump administration has also failed to resettle the amount of refugees they have admitted, with less than half of the current cap having been resettled, leaving them in limbo. Pompeo was quick to defend the reduction stating, “This years proposed refugee ceiling must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States,” according to NPR. He added that “We are, and continue to be, the most generous nation in the world.” The Secretary of State announced the decrease at the State Department, citing the backlog of cases for people seeking asylum in the United States. Though the lines are somewhat blurred, the distinction between a refugee and an asylum seeker is mostly bureaucratic, with the distinction being made based on the location of the person at that moment. A refugee is generally someone who is outside of the country, but is seeking replacement and admission to the country in question because they are unwilling or unable to return to their native country, due to a variety of reasons, such as conflict or poverty. An asylum seeker is someone who is already in the U.S. or at a U.S. port of entry, who declares their wish to claim asylum. From there their case will be considered by the government.
Refugee rights groups lamented the decision, while anti-immigration groups expressed their content. Many also speculated on the influence of Stephen Miller, the notoriously anti-immigration senior White House adviser. When detailing the Trump administrations logic behind the new cap, he stated “This year’s refugee ceiling reflects the substantial increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum in our country, leading to a massive backlog of outstanding asylum cases and greater public expense,” according to NYT. Numerous refugee rights groups spoke out against the decision, citing the U.S.’s duty to uphold moral values and act with compassion. J. Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies said “It is becoming increasingly clear that the goal of this White House is to cripple the U.S. refugee program.” Appleby continued on to state “It weakens our moral authority and leadership in the world.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a leading humanitarian response organization, issued a press release on Sept. 17, lambasting the Trump administration, stating that this showed the U.S. was “abdicating humanitarian leadership and responsibility-sharing in response to the worst global displacement and refugee crisis since World War II.” Nazanin Ash, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the IRC, was quick to point out that “in justifying its policy intention, the Administration has pitted those seeking asylum against refugees,” going on to say that “a choice between asylum programs and refugee programs is a false one. The Administration has the resources it needs to effectively administer both programs, as historic admissions levels prove.” When President Trump entered office Jan. 20, 2017, the cap was set at 110,000 according to U.S. Department of State records, a holdover from the Obama administration. This number was part of the former administration’s proposed goals and analysis for the refugee crisis, which was presented to
Congress for review, as law requires. It was an increase from the 85,000 from fiscal year 2016. This historically low cap on refugee admissions is seen as yet another way the Trump administration is fulfilling the promises made on the campaign trail, reducing the amount of immigrants in the country. It is notable that his crackdown has not only been on those he terms illegal immigrants, but on legal migration, making it even harder for those seeking entry to succeed. The administration has also again and again cited the need to balance humanitarian goals with national security, a theme that again emerged in Pompeo’s announcement, as he mentioned the recent arrest of an Iraqi refugee.