The Trump administration has recommended to Congress that the United States allow just 45,000 refugees resettle in the country in fiscal year 2018, senior administration officials said on Tuesday. That’s the lowest cap on annual refugee admissions in modern history.
It’s also even even less than previously expected. President Donald Trump had wanted to limit refugee admissions to no more than 50,000 people, multiple sources told VICE News earlier this month. Lawmakers still have a chance to weigh-in on the matter, but Trump ultimately has the final say. A decision is due by Saturday, before the start of the 2018 fiscal year.
With wars raging in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, President Barack Obama set the 2017 refugee ceiling last year at 110,000, but Trump promptly reversed that move in January by enacting his travel ban, which effectively ground refugee resettlement to a halt. Administration officials said Tuesday that as of the end of this week, when the fiscal year ends, about 54,000 refugees will have been resettled so far.
The Trump administration recommended decreasing the cap over concerns about the safety and security of Americans, the officials said.
The cap is also determined by the administration’s ability to process refugees, the officials said, which may soon slow thanks to Trump’s travel ban. In his controversial executive order creating the ban, Trump asked the government to reevaluate its security vetting procedures for refugees. That evaluation is scheduled to conclude on Oct. 24, and while officials couldn’t say how the government’s procedures would change, they’re likely to intensify. Harsher vetting will eat up more government resources, apparently pushing the United State to to cut down on the refugees it takes in.
Refugees seeking to enter the United States already face a rigorous vetting process, which can take up to two years to complete. It includes multiple background and security checks, fingerprint screenings, in-person interviews with government personnel, and approval from the Department of Homeland Security. Administration officials didn’t know whether the vetting procedures, if adjusted under Trump’s executive order, will take even longer in the future.
Since 1980, when the current vetting process was put into place, the United States has taken in more than 3 million refugees; no foreign-born refugee has killed anyone in an act of terror.
Advisor Stephen Miller and some other Trump administration officials have argued that it’s too costly for the U.S. to resettle refugees, but a leaked report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that it’s actually a long-term net positive for the economy.
The Trump administration appears not to have informed Senate leaders just how low its officials wanted the refugee cap to be prior to Tuesday, which prompted the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee to publicly rebuke the administration for failing to meet with them sooner.
“We are incredibly frustrated that the annual consultation for refugee admissions, which is required by law, was finalized just one day in advance,” Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. “An eleventh-hour meeting to check a legal box is not sufficient.”
The officials also said on Tuesday they haven’t told private resettlement agencies, who help refugees integrate into U.S. life, that the Trump administration plans to slash the number of refugees allowed into the country. This sort of silence from the White House is “very unusual,” one resettlement agency official previously told VICE News. Many of these agencies recommended that the administration allow at least 75,000 refugees into the United States in the upcoming fiscal year.
“The United States is cutting refugee resettlement to half of what it was last year, and a quarter of what it was in 1980,” Michael Rinehart, chairman of the board for the resettlement agency Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement. “At a time when the world needs us desperately, it seems we are shutting the door on the Statue of Liberty.”
The world is currently in the midst of the worst refugee crisis ever recorded — more than 22 million people are believed to be refugees, while another 40 million are believed to be either asylum seekers or displaced within their home.
Historically, the United States has set the refugee cap based on global need. The limit was raised to more than 100,000 throughout the early 1980s and early ‘90s to accommodate people fleeing violence in Southeast Asia, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and civil war in the Balkans. In contrast, Trump’s cap would be the lowest ever by a wide margin — it’s never been lower than 67,000, in 1986.
Regardless of the official cap on refugees, Trump’s travel ban has already derailed United States’ refugee programs; the start-and-stop nature of the legal challenges to the travel ban have effectively dismantled the so-called “resettlement pipeline.” While the case is currently before the Supreme Court, it’s unclear whether the justices will ever hear it: They indefinitely delayed delayed oral arguments on Monday, following Trump’s issuing of a third version of the travel ban, which added Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad to the list of countries with restricted travel to the United States.