THE U.S. will slash the number of refugees it will accept for a second straight year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo however, insisted on Monday amid criticism from human rights groups that the country is still committed to providing sanctuary to people fleeing the world’s danger zones.
Up to 30,000 refugees will be allowed into the country next year, down from a cap of 45,000 this year. It will be the lowest ceiling on admissions since the program began in 1980.
The announcement comes despite calls from global humanitarian groups that this year’s cap of 45,000 was too low.
Pompeo sought to head off potential criticism of the reduction by noting that the U.S. would process more than 280,000 asylum claims in addition to more than 800,000 already inside the country who are awaiting a resolution of their claims.
The 30,000 cap is the maximum number of refugees the U.S. will admit during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The actual number allowed in could be lower. So far this year, the U.S. has only admitted 20,918 refugees for the fiscal year set to end in two weeks, according to State Department records.
President Barack Obama raised the ceiling to 110,000 in 2017, but the pace slowed dramatically after President Donald Trump took office and issued an executive order addressing refugees. In 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, the U.S. welcomed nearly 85,000 refugees.
Amnesty International accused the Trump administration of “abandoning” refugees with the lower cap.
Trump has made limiting immigration a centerpiece of his policy agenda. The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that forcibly separated families at the U.S. southern border sparked outrage among Republicans and Democrats alike. Last year Trump temporarily banned visitors from a handful of Muslim-majority nations, and insists he’ll build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Most applicants to the U.S. refugee program spend at least three years being interviewed, undergoing biometric checks and medical exams, and filling out paperwork. Cases are screened by the Defense Department, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
After they are resettled, refugees continue to undergo security checks in the United States for five years or more.
The Trump administration added requirements, including longer background checks and more screenings for females and males between 14 and 50 from certain countries, including Iraq.