- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2020

The administration has set a cap of admitting no more than 15,000 refugees in fiscal 2021, marking the lowest number on record and completing President Trump’s goal of restructuring the modern refugee system.

The number marks a fourth straight year of cuts — last year’s cap was 18,000 — and highlights the political divide between Mr. Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, who has said he would set the cap at 125,000 refugees.

State Department officials informed Congress of Mr. Trump’s number just before a midnight Wednesday deadline, when the fiscal year began on Oct. 1. And they set the number without the consultation the law requires, according to Democrats.

In a statement, the State Department said the government will get more than 300,000 claims of humanitarian protection in the next year.

Almost all of those will be asylum cases, which are filed by noncitizens already in the U.S. Just 15,000 will be refugees, who apply from outside the country, seeking admittance and resettlement.

“The president’s proposal for refugee resettlement in fiscal year 2021 reflects the administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the department said.

Officials also said the system is still overwhelmed by the massive backlog of asylum cases that built up in recent years, as undocumented immigrants from Central America took advantage of lax border policies to surge to the U.S., many of them making what will likely turn out to be bogus asylum claims.

It is taking years to process many of those cases, and, while they wait, the asylum applicants are living in the U.S. with the right to apply for a work permit.

Trump critics said the new low number amounts to “dismantling” the refugee system.

“President Trump has cast basic human decency aside and shredded this historic program to tatters,” said Mustafa Jumale, political director at Voice for Refugees.

Under U.S. law the president is required to set an annual refugee cap, though he’s supposed to consult with key congressional committees beforehand. This is the third year he’s not done so, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The cap for fiscal 2020, which ended Wednesday, was set at 18,000 — though in actuality, with the coronavirus travel shutdown and other factors, the U.S. only accepted fewer than 12,000 refugees, advocates said.

President Obama had set a cap of 110,000 in 2016, but Mr. Trump has steadily ratcheted that number down.

And he’s clashed with refugee advocates — including some Republicans on Capitol Hill — who say accepting refugees is part of America’s world mission.

“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 of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Mr. Trump’s impact on the refugee system has been huge.

In 2016, the final full year under Mr. Obama, the U.S. took in nearly 39,000 Muslim refugees, or about 45% of all people resettled here that year. Last year, the U.S. took about 2,500 Muslim refugees, which was about 20% of the total.

Another way to look at it is by language.

In 2016, the U.S. accepted more than 21,000 Arabic-speaking refugees. That dropped to just 512 through the first nine months of this fiscal year. Swahili speakers dropped from about 6,500 in 2016 to just 776 through first nine months of the current fiscal year.

Regionally, European refugees have done the best under Mr. Trump, rising from about 5% off the total in 2016 to more than 20% this year.

Advocates said they expect Mr. Biden to return to the policies of the Obama years, including higher numbers and fewer restrictions.

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