- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2020

President Trump signed a new record low limit on refugees for 2021 and instituted a new ban on most refugees from countries with a nexus to terrorism, the White House said Wednesday, completing a four-year effort to rewrite America’s marquee humanitarian relief program.

Mr. Trump said no more than 15,000 refugees can be resettled between now and Sept. 30, 2021, and set new guidelines on which refugees will be accepted. He carved out 5,000 spaces for people fleeing religious persecution and 1,000 for people fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

He said refugees from Syria, Somalia and Yemen — countries with a high risk of terrorism — will be excluded, unless they’re fleeing religious persecution or already have a specific tie, such as being vetted by a U.S. embassy.

“The threat to United States national security and public safety posed by the admission of refugees from high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control is significant and cannot be fully mitigated at this time,” Mr. Trump wrote in his directive.

His order also said the refugees should be resettled, to the extent possible, in communities that have expressed a desire to take them. That was a softer way to try to give local communities an option. A previous attempt to give communities a full veto over resettlements was blocked by the courts.

The 15,000 cap had been announced late last month, at the Sept. 30 deadline. But the administration didn’t consult with Congress about the number until this month, which Democrats said violated the law.

Refugees are those fleeing persecution and seeking humanitarian protection from overseas. Migrants who reach U.S. soil and ask for protection are known as asylum-seekers under the law.

There is no cap on how many people can seek asylum, and the U.S. saw a surge of Central Americans attempting to claim asylum in recent years. Most of them have bogus claims, but merely demanding asylum and saying they feared going back home earned many of them a chance to be allowed in the U.S. and released into communities while their cases are heard.

Trump administration officials said they have cut refugee numbers to even out the surge of asylum cases.

Mr. Trump has steadily been ratcheting the cap down.

President Obama set a 110,000 limit for 2017 as he left office, but Mr. Trump quickly cut that as part of his travel ban. His attempt got snared in litigation, but the final number for that year was fewer than 55,000.

The caps for 2018 and 2019 were 45,000 and 30,000, and last year’s cap was 18,000, though fewer than 12,000 were actually admitted because of coronavirus travel restrictions. The remaining 6,000 spaces were rolled over into the new 15,000 number, White House officials said.

Immigrant rights groups called the new cap “a complete abdication of our humanitarian duty.”

“Any claim that this administration supports legal immigration is undermined by these unprecedented cuts to a program that has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support for decades,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the non-governmental organizations that does resettlements in the U.S.

Refugees International called the new limit “cruel and nasty.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden has said he would set a target cap of 125,000 refugee admissions in his first year, exceeding the highest of the Obama years. The last time the country had a cap that high was in 1993, at the end of the Cold War.

Mr. Trump‘s refugee crackdown plans took shape in 2016, at a time when refugees from Syria were a big issue.

The Obama administration had set aside thousands of slots from the war-torn nation, even though top U.S. security officials admitted it was impossible to thoroughly vet refugees from there.

That situation led not only to Mr. Trump‘s promises to curtail refugee admissions, but also to his “extreme vetting” plans and his travel ban, which initially targeted only majority-Muslim nations, earning it the derisive label of a “Muslim ban.”

Whatever the labels, the effects of Mr. Trump‘s policies have 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.

Regionally, European refugees have risen from about 5% of the total to more than 20%.

Or viewed by language, the U.S. accepted more than 21,000 Arabic-speaking refugees in 2016. That dropped to just 512 through the first nine months of fiscal 2020. Swahili speakers dropped from about 6,500 in 2016 to just 776 through first nine months of the current fiscal year.

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