US to slash refugee resettlement program by 40 percent
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States plans to dramatically lower the ceiling on a decades-old refugee resettlement program to 18,000 people, officials said Thursday, blaming the influx of migrants along the country’s southern border for imposing too great a burden.
It represents a reduction of 40 percent from its current level of 30,000 people, already a record low, threatening America’s historic position as the most generous destination for those fleeing war and persecution.
“A responsible approach to refugees is one that seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so that they can help to rebuild their own nations,” said President Donald Trump in a statement announcing the move.
It added that under a new order, refugees would only be resettled in jurisdictions where state and local authorities consent.
A separate release by the State Department said the “current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large numbers of refugees.” It said the influx of migrants along the country’s southern border was a “crisis” for imposing “an extraordinary burden.”
As a means of serving U.S. foreign policy interests, refugee admissions have specific allocations for people persecuted for religious beliefs, Iraqis whose assistance to the U.S. puts them in danger, and “legitimate refugees” from the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The administration consults with Congress before finalizing refugee admissions changes but in reality the decision-making power falls under the White House.
President Donald Trump has made cracking down on immigration, both legal and illegal, a core policy, guided by his hardline advisor Stephen Miller.
The current level of 30,000 is already the lowest since the program’s inception in 1980. The number stood at almost 85,000 when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama left office.
Migration advocacy groups reacted with dismay.
“This is a very sad day for America,” said David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee.
“This decision represents further damage to America’s leadership on protecting the most vulnerable people around the world,” he added.
The IRC added that the U.S. currently has 30,000 people who have already undergone interviews for resettlement, far above the new ceiling, with 9,000 ready for travel.