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Trump administration to cut refugee admissions to record low 

click to enlarge Members of a refugee caravan cross Mexico toward the U.S. border during 2018. - ALEXEI WOOD
  • Alexei Wood
  • Members of a refugee caravan cross Mexico toward the U.S. border during 2018.
The Trump administration plans to again cut by thousands the number of refugees that will be allowed to relocate to the United States.

The administration announced just before a midnight deadline Wednesday that the country will admit 15,000 refugees during the 2021 fiscal year, the lowest ceiling in the history of the 40-year-old resettlement program. It continues a trend for the president that started when he took office in 2017. The 2020 limit was 18,000, down from 30,000 in 2019 and 45,000 in 2018. The average annual cap since the program began is 95,000.

Immigrant and civil rights groups said the move flies in the face of Trump’s claim that he supports legal immigration into the country.

“At a time of unprecedented global need, today’s decision to further cut the refugee admissions ceiling is a complete abdication of our humanitarian and moral duty.” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a national resettlement agency. “Let this serve as a wake-up call to those who believe this administration supports avenues of legal immigration. Refugees go through extreme vetting and have done everything our government has asked of them, yet they continue to be met with open hostility and egregious processing delays from this administration”

The president usually confers with Congress on the yearly cap, but can act unilaterally and set the limits, Vignarajah said.

Texas is among the states that have accepted the most refugees within their borders since 2002, according to the Pew Research Center. From 2002 to 2019 about 88,300 refugees relocated here. That’s second behind California’s 108,600 and about 30,000 greater than New York, which had the third-highest total. Texas accepted about 1,700 and 2,460 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But as of the end of the 2020 fiscal year Wednesday, that figure dipped below 1,000, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service statistics.

That slowdown parallels the national trend under the Trump administration, which has made revamping immigration policy one of its first-term priorities. From January 2017 to September 2019, the administration admitted about 76,200 refugees, compared with about 85,000 admitted in 2016 alone.

Despite the 2020 limit being set at 18,000, only about 11,750 had been admitted as of Wednesday. That includes only about 125 of the 4,000 slots reserved for Iraqis and about 575 of the 1,500 for people from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Vignarajah said that’s due to several factors, including a limit on family members of current refugees already in the United States, a lack of infrastructure to process refugees in those countries and a decline in resources at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Earlier this week, a former Trump Department of Homeland Security official said that refugees are some of the most heavily screened applicants of all immigrant groups.

“As a Christian and as an American, the administration’s approach to refugees does not uphold our values or keep us safe,” Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention at DHS, said during a press call with the National Immigration Forum. “Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted populations that are admitted to the United States. This administration’s approach is not based on security, but on a larger effort to keep out the stranger.”

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