US Seeks to Sharply Cut Refugee Admissions as Asylum Claims Soar

September 18, 2018 Updated: September 18, 2018

WASHINGTON—The State Department is proposing a 30,000 ceiling for refugee resettlements in fiscal year 2019, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sept. 17.

The number is a 20,000-person decrease from fiscal 2017, and the lowest since 1980. However, Pompeo said, the United States anticipates processing an additional 280,000 asylum-seekers in fiscal 2019.

More than 800,000 asylum-seekers are already in the United States awaiting adjudication of their claims. The immigration court system is so bogged down that it will take at least seven years to clear the existing claims, without adding new ones.

The United States says “refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The definition is the same for an asylum-seeker; however, asylees apply once inside the United States, while a refugee applies for admission from outside the country.

The State Department is responsible for refugee intake into the United States. In fiscal 2018, the largest portion of refugees (46 percent) came from Africa.

Only 31 countries accept refugees, and the total number resettled globally is paltry (102,800 in the past year) compared to the 25.4 million refugees estimated by the UNHCR.

“The refugee ceiling number should not be viewed in isolation from other expansive humanitarian programs,” Pompeo said. “Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world. This would be wrong.”

Taking in refugees is only a small part of the assistance the United States provides to refugees around the world—the lion’s share of assistance goes to refugees in the place they flee to.

“A focus on helping refugees overseas also allows us to maximize our resources,” Pompeo said. “We can house, feed, and provide medical care for hundreds of thousands more refugees closer to their homes and do so more rapidly than we could possibly do here in the United States.”

The FBI has reported that approximately 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations, according to the DHS.

Congress needs to approve the new refugee ceiling, which it’s likely to do.

Follow Charlotte on Twitter: @charlottecuthbo
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