Washington: President Donald Trump has slashed US admissions of refugees to a record low of no more than 15,000 as he fiercely denounced migrants from Somalia and other war-torn nations on the campaign trail.
The State Department announced the number just half an hour before the start of the 2021 fiscal year at midnight Thursday, narrowly meeting a deadline set by US law.
The 15,000 figure — the maximum who can be admitted over the next 12 months barring a change in administration — is a further cut from 18,000 last year and down dramatically from more than 100,000 under previous president Barack Obama.
Trump boasted of his efforts to hinder refugees at a campaign rally late Wednesday in Minnesota.
“Overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating your hospitals,” Trump said of refugees. “It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to your state.”
Scholars widely dispute that migrants are a drain on public resources, pointing to economic benefits of newcomers.
Trump’s Democratic rival in November 3 elections, Joe Biden, has pledged to raise the refugee cap back to 125,000, saying that welcoming the persecuted is in line with US values.
“Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp,” Trump said, describing the former vice president’s proposed reversal of his cuts as a “700 per cent increase” in refugees form “the most dangerous places in the world including Yemen, Syria and your favorite country, Somalia.”
“This guy loves Somalia,” Trump said.
Trump led the crowd in booing Representative Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee and vociferous critic of the president who represents Minnesota’s largest city Minneapolis.
Trump launched his 2016 campaign on vows to keep out Mexican and Muslim immigrants and took heat after a debate Tuesday with Biden for equivocating on condemning white supremacists.
'Strategy of fear-mongering’
Trump already suspended refugee admissions entirely for several months this year, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Explaining the proposed new numbers, which need formal White House approval, the State Department said the United States wanted to help displaced people “as close to their homes as possible” until they can go back.
“By focusing on ending the conflicts that drive displacement in the first place, and by providing overseas humanitarian assistance to protect and assist displaced people, we can prevent the destabilizing effects of such displacement on affected countries and their neighbors,” a statement said.
Refugee advocates had pleaded with the Trump administration to raise admissions in the face of global conflicts and fresh instability due to the pandemic.
“The president’s action is disappointing but not surprising,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International.
“It is part of an overall strategy of fear-mongering and vilification of refugees,” said Schwartz, who was in charge of refugee policy under Obama.
Manar Waheed of the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump was attempting to grind immigration systems “to a halt and ensure that Black and Brown immigrants do not have refuge in our nation.”
‘No more generous country’
Nearly 80 million people around the world are displaced, double the number a decade ago, according to the UN refugee agency.
On September 8, fire ravaged a bursting-at-the-seams camp that had been attempting to house 20,000 people on the Greek island of Lesbos, a key entry point to the European Union.
And on Thursday, more than 3,000 mostly Honduran migrants surged into Guatemala in hopes of reaching the United States, the latest in a series of caravans denounced by Trump.
Asked about cuts to refugee admissions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “no more generous country” than the United States in providing humanitarian assistance.
“We’ve taken more refugees inside the United States than any other nation over the course of the last 20 years,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday in Rome.
The United States for years accepted more refugees than the rest of the world combined. But last year Canada topped the US as the leader by resettling more than 30,000 refugees, according to UN data.
Democratic lawmakers earlier feared that the Trump administration would not comply with the requirement to provide a refugee number by October 1, making it impossible to admit people.
Syria remains the world’s largest source of refugees after nearly a decade of brutal civil war. More than five million people have also fled Venezuela’s crumbling economy and political tumult.