The U.S. is on track to admitting fewer than half the number of refugees allowed under the current annual cap, as the Trump administration’s enhanced screening procedures have slowed the refugee resettlement process.
With just over a month remaining in fiscal year 2018, the U.S. is on pace to resettle about 20,000 to 21,000 refugees, which would be the smallest number since the current refugee program was established in 1980. President Donald Trump set the FY2018 refugee cap at 45,000 in 2017 — itself the lowest annual ceiling during the same time period.
One reason for the historically low number of refugee admissions is that it now takes the FBI much longer to conduct background checks than it did before the administration put new security vetting in place, NBC reported Friday.
The FBI, one of several government agencies involved in the refugee screening process, often reviews just a “handful” of cases in a single day, according to the NBC report, which cited two former Trump administration officials and humanitarian workers.
Influential officials within the administration, particularly White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, have long called for stronger vetting of refugee applicants. They have also sought to sharply reduce the number of refugees the U.S. accepts on an annual basis, contending that refugee funding would be better spent resettling people in countries close to their home nations and reducing the backlog of pending asylum cases. (RELATED: Trump’s Top Aides Make Push To Drastically Cut Refugee Admissions)
Critics contend the administration is using concerns about security and resources to mask its real aim of cutting legal immigration through executive order, a charge the White House denies.
The Refugee Act of 1980 gives presidents wide latitude to set limits on refugee admissions. Since the law was enacted, the annual quota for worldwide refugee resettlement int the U.S. has averaged 94,000, according to State Department figures.
Until FY2017, when Trump capped refugee admissions at 50,000, the lowest ceiling had been 67,000 under former President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
The last time the U.S. admitted fewer than 30,000 refugees was the immediate post-9/11 period — about 27,100 in 2002 and 28,400 in 2003, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
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