Humanitarian organizations are pushing back against a proposal from the Trump administration to further slash refugee admissions into the United States in Fiscal Year 2019, saying it’s unnecessary and will deny thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people a chance to start a new life in dignity.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the administration intends to admit no more than 30,000 refugees in FY2019, a drop from FY2018’s ceiling of 45,000, which was already a historic low.
The announcement comes as the world continues to face the worst global displacement and refugee crisis since World War II.
The International Rescue Committee, one of nine organizations that works with the State Department to resettle refugees, swiftly condemned the administration’s proposal.
“The U.S. is not only abdicating humanitarian leadership and responsibility-sharing … but compromising critical strategic interests and reneging on commitments to allies and vulnerable populations,” the organization said in a press release Monday.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert defended the proposal by drawing a contrast between immigrants who she said “built” America and refugees.
“I think if you ask anyone who comes to the United States through all of the proper channels … those are the people who aspire to come to America,” she said. “When you talk about refugees … by and large, those are people who do not want to come to the United States.”
Nazanin Ash, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at IRC, told The Globe Post that refugees in resettlement programs are the most vulnerable and have no choice but to seek relocation to countries like the U.S.
“Refugees in the resettlement program by definition have requested resettlement to a third country,” Ash said.
About 1.5 million of the world’s 25 million refugees are referred for resettlement. According to IRC, there is a 94 percent gap between resettlement needs and available spaces.
Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities in Springfield, Massachusetts, told The Globe Post that Nauert’s claim “didn’t resonate” with her experience working first-hand with refugee families.
She shared a story about a newly arrived family from Malawi that languished in a refugee camp before reaching the U.S. last week.
“During their first meal in the U.S., the 20-year-old son, with a huge smile and an eagerness to use his budding English, proclaimed ‘I’m very, very happy. I’m OK … I’m in America now!'” she said.
Christopher Boian, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Globe Post that refugees generally prefer to stay in their home countries or as close by as possible. But when war or persecution makes those options impossible, resettlement becomes the only remaining recourse.
“No one chooses to become a refugee,” Boian said. “For a small number of very vulnerable refugees, however, resettlement offers the only viable path to start a new life in safety and dignity.”
Before Trump took office, the U.S. resettled refugees at a far higher rate than it has since. In Barack Obama’s final fiscal year in office, more than 80,000 refugees were successfully settled.
A spokesperson for the State Department told The Globe Post that the reduction in admissions is related to new vetting procedures required by an executive order signed by Trump in his first month in office. They make it more difficult and time-consuming to get refugees through the system.
The State Department spokesperson also said the reduced ceiling takes into account an increased number of asylum seekers who have arrived at the Southern border.
In a statement, Ash said the administration has “pitted those seeking asylum against refugees.”
“A choice between asylum programs and refugee programs is a false one,” she said. “The Administration has the resources it needs to effectively administer both programs.”
As a candidate, Trump repeatedly attacked Syrian refugees, claiming without evidence that some were secretly ISIS members seeking to infiltrate the U.S. He also called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Since his election, the number of Muslim refugees admitted into the country has fallen by nearly 90 percent, the most of any religious or ethnic group.