Citing safety and security concerns, the Trump administration said Wednesday that it will cap refugee admissions at 45,000 in the 2018 fiscal year, a historic low that refugee advocates say will exclude many of the world’s vulnerable populations.
Under the proposal to Congress, an estimated 19,000 refugees would be admitted from Africa; 17,000 from east South Asia; 5,000 from East Asia; 2,000 from Europe and Central Asia and 1,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean.
While stating the importance of the United States’ “leadership role in humanitarian protection,” the administration said during a news briefing that “an integral part of this mission is to ensure that refugee resettlement opportunities only go to those who are eligible for such protection and who are not known to present a risk to the safety and security of our country.”
The limit is the lowest since 1980, the year legislation was implemented giving the president authority to determine a cap on refugees, according to the New York Times. The limit has never slipped lower than 67,000 — the number that Ronald Reagan set in 1986 — the Times said. In previous years, the U.S. had admitted an estimated 70,000 refugees annually. Former President Barack Obama had placed a 110,000 limit on refugees last year, in part to take in a growing number of Syrian refugees displaced around the world.
The announcement comes days after the Trump administration revealed new restrictions on visitors from eight countries — an expansion of the pre-existing travel ban that has spurred fierce legal debates over security, immigration and discrimination.
The new refugee ceiling is “tragic” and “misguided,” according to Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley in Los Gatos, one of just a few refugee resettlement agencies in Santa Clara County.
“The people that we’re looking to limit are the people who are escaping terrorism,” she said. “They want to live in peace and freedom. When they come here, they are so enthusiastic and ready to contribute.”
Berkowitz said the nonprofit is paid per refugee arrival.
“If we’re looking at these historically low levels, we stand to lose from our budgets hundreds of thousands of dollars. It mostly impacts us in terms of the staff that we hire.”
Santa Clara County resettled 134 refugees between October 2016 and August 31, according to data compiled by the state’s Department of Social Services. Berkowitz, however, said state estimates are inaccurate. Jewish Family Services alone resettled 105 refugees between October 2016 and September, she said.
Meanwhile, Alameda County resettled 127 refugees between October 2016 and August 31, compared with 28 in Contra Costa County, state data shows.
“We have recognized for many years that offering safe haven to the neediest among us helps advance American interests abroad, and it is devastating to see the White House ignoring this fact,” said Karen Ferguson, executive director of the International Rescue Committee of Northern California in a statement. “Locally, the IRC sees refugees being welcomed into Northern California and then giving back to their communities and to the economy, and are committed to continuing that work.”
In a joint statement with U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan), Rep. Zoe Lofgren called the cap “an affront to the United States’ legacy as a protector of oppressed people.”
“Today’s decision turns our back on the world at a time when there are more refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons than at any time since World War II,” said Lofgren, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “It is an abdication of our moral authority, and an abandonment of the very values that make America great.”
Federal law requires a cabinet official to consult with Congress before a ceiling is set. But government officials said the administration’s briefing to Congress on the cap came just days before the fiscal year starts on Oct 1.
The Associated Press contributed.
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