US cuts refugee cap to historic low of 30,000

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the number of refugees admitted annually to the US was just one measure of the country’s generosity.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the number of refugees admitted annually to the US was just one measure of the country’s generosity.(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

The Trump administration is lowering the US cap on refugee admissions to a historic low of 30,000 people for the coming fiscal year, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said.

The total is down from the maximum of 45,000 refugees that President Trump said he would allow into the United States during fiscal year 2018, which ends on Sept. 30. In fact, the actual number will be less: 21,000 refugees have been admitted so far.

Anticipating criticism that the lower ceiling on refugee admissions is likely to generate, Pompeo said it was just one measure of US generosity.

“Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington on Monday. “This would be wrong.”


The move may resonate politically with core Trump administration supporters, while fueling criticism from Democratic leaders and voters who say the United States is turning its back on its traditional role as a nation welcoming to refugees. The Obama administration had set a cap of 85,000 refugee admissions in its last year in office.

Admissions have been a fraught subject for the Trump administration since the president took office in January 2017 and immediately issued an executive order seeking to ban travelers from more than half a dozen predominantly Muslim nations, a move that generated protests at airports across the nation and a prompted a series of conflicting legal judgments. More recently, the administration has been roiled by its policy, since modified, separating children crossing the southern US border with Mexico from their parents.

Pompeo’s “announcement of a refugee ceiling of 30,000 is appalling, and it continues this administration’s rapid flight from the proud US tradition of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution around the world,” Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said in a statement.


Last month, the Republican and Democratic leaders on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged the administration in a letter to clarify when and how it would consult with Congress on its refugee admissions goal.

Criticism hasn’t come solely from the usual opponents of Trump’s immigration policies. In August, seven evangelical Christian groups sent a letter to Pompeo and other officials urging them to restore refugee admissions to historic levels, starting with a target of 75,000 for 2019.

The groups said the US reductions have come even though the world’s refugee population is now at 25 million, the highest ever recorded. They said the cuts had been “most stark” for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.