President Donald Trump's administration plans to dramatically reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States during the coming year, despite appeals from humanitarian groups that more people than ever should be admitted.
The White House announced in a report to Congress Wednesday that the U.S. plans to admit no more than 45,000 refugees during the year ahead - the smallest number in more than 35 years.
Former President Barack Obama had proposed a refugee allotment more than twice as great - 110,000 - during the next 12 months.
Announcement expected soon
Trump is expected to formally announce the new refugee allotment plan during the coming days. The new limit of 45,000 refugee admissions would be in effect during the U.S. fiscal year that begins Sunday. It is lower than limits set in any year since the U.S. refugee program was established in 1980.
A full-year total of refugee admissions for fiscal 2017, which ends Saturday night, is expected to be about 54,000. During fiscal 2016, the last full year of Obama's two terms as president, the U.S. welcomed 84,995 refugees.
Immigration experts noted the 45,000 figure is a "cap," or maximum number of refugees that can be admitted during the next 12 months, and said the number of refugees actually admitted by September 30, 2018, could be substantially lower.
Prospective immigrants' applications for refugee status are judged according to a number of criteria, U.S. officials said, but there also are specific allotments for different geographical regions.
The allotments that the State Department sent to Congress Wednesday indicated 19,000 refugees, 42 percent of the total, could come from Africa. Other allotments included Middle Eastern and South Asian native, 17,000 slots or 39 percent; and 5,000 slots for East Asian refugees, 2,000 from Europe and 1,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Although the totals were far lower than those used during the Obama administration, analysts noted the proportions of refugee slots going to each geographical region were almost unchanged from the previous year, with one key difference: no longer will there be an "unallocated" allotment of refugee slots that could go to natives of any region. Last year there were 14,000 "unallocated" slots.
Trump's decision was sharply criticized by aid groups, whose representatives pointed to refugee crises that have worsened, not improved, in many parts of the world, including Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan. "With historically high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our country,'' said Bill O'Keefe of Catholic Relief Services.
Administration officials said Trump's new cap on numbers admitted will advance national security and the United States' capacity to properly screen and take in refugees.
"For the cost of resettling one refugee in the U.S., we can assist more than 10 in their home region," Trump said in a speech to the United Nations this month.
Worldwide, there were 22.5 million refugees last year, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and that estimate does not include many more people who were internally displaced - forced to leave their homes and move to different parts of their home countries, due to wars, political upheaval or other violence, extreme poverty or natural disasters.