The Trump administration proposed Thursday that the U.S. refugee program be slashed by almost half to 18,000 admissions a year, the lowest level since the program began over three decades ago.
The refugee cap was set to 30,000 last year and the administration has made it a priority to limit the number of migrants entering the United States even further.
The proposal for fiscal year 2020 was submitted to Congress by the Departments of State, Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services on Thursday. They argue that curbing the number of refugee admissions was necessary for the administration to be able to focus on the migrants flowing in from the U.S.-Mexico border and reduce the backlog of asylum claims, The Hill writes.
“The United States has always been and will always remain the most generous nation in the world when it comes to welcoming those in need of humanitarian protection, including refugees, asylees, and victims of trafficking,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan in a statement.
He added that the proposal “will allow the Department of Homeland Security to focus on addressing the ongoing crisis at the southern border, reducing a staggering asylum backlog that unfairly delays relief for those with meritorious claims, and completing more overall cases in an increasingly multifaceted humanitarian workload.”
According to a senior U.S. official, priority would be given to those persecuted on a religious basis, as well as to Iraqis who have assisted the United States and nationals from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The policy, the official added, “links refugee administrations to U.S. national security and foreign policy priorities.”
Of those 18,000, 4,000 would be reserved for Iraqis, 1,500 for refugees coming from Central America, 5,000 for those persecuted for their religious beliefs and additional 7,500 slots people seeking family unification and have been cleared for resettlement.
President Donald Trump has long complained about the large numbers of refugees coming to the U.S. and has steadily decreased the number of admissions since he took office. During his first year, he proposed capping the number of refugees at 45,000, curbing this number even further last year, when he reduced it to 30,000.
In comparison, The New York Times reports that former President Barack Obama proposed a cap of 116,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, his final one in office.