The Trump administration will admit no more than 30,000 refugees to the U.S. in the coming year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, down from the current cap of 45,000.
Pompeo announced the lowered ceiling during a press conference Monday at the State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom.
Pompeo said the 30,000 cap “must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States” and should not be “sole barometer” to measure the country’s humanitarian efforts.
The hawkish turn demonstrates President Donald Trump’s willingness to push hard-line immigration policies in the run-up to the November midterm elections — even after his controversial “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy led to thousands of family separations and a court order to reunify parents and children.
When Trump took office, the refugee cap stood at 110,000. He lowered that to 50,000 shortly after he took office, and subsequently to 45,000 this fiscal year.
The administration argued last year that refugee resources should be employed to address a backlog of domestic asylum cases that ballooned to more 300,000 cases this year — an argument repeated by Pompeo Monday. Unlike refugees, who apply from overseas, asylum seekers request protection after arriving in the U.S.
Asylum cases have continued to climb under Trump, even as resources to process them have been siphoned away. The number of cases in the legal queue rose 10 percent from September 2017 to June 2018, according to statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Pompeo lumped refugee admissions with asylum cases in his remarks, saying the U.S. would aim to process the cases of 280,000 asylum seekers in the coming year.
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller pressed for a lower refugee ceiling, POLITICO reported last month, while Pentagon officials angled to keep current levels, according to Reuters. Refugee advocates — left with few allies in the Trump administration — had hoped Pompeo would argue for a higher ceiling.
A former White House official familiar with the discussions told POLITICO that Pompeo internally argued to keep levels at 45,000, but apparently relented.
“It is astonishing and disappointing to see the secretary of state spouting the misleading and dangerous talking points of Stephen Miller, when Pompeo knows full well that the facts supported a robust refugee resettlement program,” the former official said.
Pompeo did not take questions from reporters after the announcement Monday. As he left a podium in the State Department Treaty Room, someone shouted, “Has the U.S. lost its heart?”
Refugee resettlement groups responded with swift disapprobation. Church World Service President Rev. John McCullough said in a related announcement that the new ceiling amounted to “an all-out attack on vulnerable families seeking to rebuild their lives in safety.”
“Setting the refugee admissions goal at 30,000 — an historic low — is an affront to the countless American communities who have welcomed refugees and understand that they are valuable members of their cities and towns,“ he said.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a resettlement group formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said the decrease shows the U.S. is “a nation in retreat.”
The Trump administration is required by statute to consult with the Senate and House Judiciary committees regarding the proposed ceiling. The Senate meeting has not yet taken place, according to an aide.
The 30,000-person ceiling announced Monday will be the lowest since the resettlement program formally began in 1980. But the number of refugees admitted in the coming year could be far lower.
Despite the 45,000-person cap set last year, the Trump administration has admitted only 20,825 refugees so far, according to State Department data, with the fiscal year set to end Sept. 30.