WASHINGTON - U.S. officials still can't confirm how many refugees will arrive this fiscal year, with less than four months left and an imminent increase in the works.
The ambitious ceiling of 110,000, set by then-President Barack Obama shortly before the 2016 election has little chance of being met. It would require a massive surge of personnel to pull off in the 16 weeks remaining in this fiscal year, which is an unlikely prospect under an administration calling for significant cuts to the refugee program.
And it likely won't be as low as 50,000, the number demanded by President Donald Trump in two executive orders embroiled in legal friction. That number is less than a month away from being reached at the current arrival pace of 866 refugee arrivals a week. Moreover, State Department has indicated that number will grow in the near future — though how much remains unclear.
So where does that leave things?
No one seems to know. It will be more than 46,835 — that's the number of confirmed arrivals as of the afternoon of June 7.
The White House did not respond to VOA's request for comment or clarification on whether Trump will issue an overriding presidential determination to lower the ceiling from 110,000. The State Department, which oversees the refugee admissions process in conjunction with other agencies, would not hazard a guess.
Predicting the final arrival numbers can be a challenge. The admittance process requires multiple offices within the U.S. government and several UN agencies to identify candidates for resettlement, interview them, vet their security and medical status, and organize their transportation to the U.S.
If the current pace stays the same, the U.S. is on track to resettle about 60,700 refugees this fiscal year, down from almost 85,000 last year.
For months, as the administration issued a first travel order in January, rescinded it and reissued a second in March, the arrivals numbers bounced up and down, settling ultimately in the 800-900 a week range. Refugee agencies that help resettle new arrivals laid off hundreds of staff members in anticipation of Trump's ordered cuts to the program.
“While we expect the number of refugees admitted weekly to rise, we are not in a position to speculate as to the new weekly total or the final number of refugees that will be admitted by the end of Fiscal Year 2017,” a State Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
Trump's executive order, also referred to as the travel ban, called for a temporary stop to refugee arrivals, and the cap of 50,000 for the fiscal year, but judges halted the full rollout of the order and parts of it are headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the advice of the Department of Justice, which represents the government in the lawsuits over the executive order, the State Department is processing refugee applications “without regard” to the section of the order that imposed the cap, according to a spokesperson.