The Trump administration told Congress on Wednesday that it will cut the maximum number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 15,000—a record low for people around the world escaping persecution, war, and natural disaster and an escalation of the president’s campaign against immigrants.
In a statement, the State Department says it expects to receive approximately 300,000 new refugees and asylum cases in the fiscal year that began Thursday. Of that number, up to 15,000 refugees would be granted admission to the U.S., while 290,000 new asylum cases will be processed, but the statement does not say whether they’d be admitted. The Washington Post notes that immigration courts determine whether asylum-seekers can stay in the U.S. Unlike refugees, asylum-seekers must already be in the country. Both groups must show proof they can no longer live in their home country without persecution.
President Donald Trump has decreased refugee admittance numbers yearly since taking office. He first set the cap at 45,000 in fiscal year 2018, down from 110,000 during President Barack Obama’s final year in office. That number dropped to 30,000 in 2019 and to 18,000 this year. NBC reports that only 11,800 refugees were admitted this year, though it’s unclear whether that number is the final total for the fiscal year, which ended Wednesday. In addition, Trump has essentially closed the border to asylum-seekers from Central America and Mexico, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. led the world in accepting refugees for decades before Trump took office. Former Vice President Joe Biden has vowed to restore refugee admission to 125,000 if elected this November.
Shortly before the announcement, Trump attacked refugees, calling them “an unwanted burden” during a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota, a state with one of the largest Somali populations in the country. “Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp, and he said that—overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating hospitals,” Trump said in his speech. Supporters then chanted “Lock her up” toward Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who emigrated from Somalia. Trump also spewed racist attacks against Omar, asking her, “How is your country doing?” at a campaign rally near Pittsburgh last week.
The announcement also comes just a week after the Trump administration proposed a new rule that would put strict time limits on visas for students from 59 countries—mostly in Africa—who are completing degrees or conducting research at U.S. colleges and universities.