The Trump administration says it wants to again cut the number of refugees admitted into the United States, proposing that for fiscal 2021 the number of new arrivals be capped at 15,000.
The State Department said Wednesday that Trump's 2021 proposal "reaffirms America's enduring commitment to assist the world's most vulnerable people while fulfilling our first duty to protect and serve the American people."
In 2020, the administration put the cap at 18,000, and the United States allowed 10,892 refugees into the country before putting the program on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. That was the fewest since the modern refugee program was approved by Congress in 1980.
Under the U.S. government calendar, the new fiscal year begins every October 1 and fiscal 2021 began Thursday.
Critics of the administration's refugee policy denounced the decision to again reduce the cap.
"The Administration has reneged on U.S. humanitarian obligations, trampled on long-held values, undermined U.S. interests and its own stated policy goals — including by failing to provide safety to thousands in need of refuge because of their assistance to U.S. troops or because of religious or political persecution," Nazanin Ash, vice president of public policy at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.
The annual cap during the administration of President Barack Obama was between 70,000 and 85,000.
The State Department told Congress that it "anticipates receiving more than 300,000 new refugees and asylum claims in Fiscal Year 2021."
"Of that number, up to 15,000 would be refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and more than 290,000 would be individuals in new asylum cases," the State Department note said.
However, more than two-thirds of applicants were refused asylum in 2019 and many of those who were approved waited three to four years for a decision, according to one study.
Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel for the ACLU, said the government "continues to conflate refugee admissions and asylum in order to use one system to shut down another — our immigration laws provide for both, not one or the other."
Asylum-seekers are processed differently than refugees. Although either refugee status or asylum "may be granted to people who have been persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion," an asylum-seeker must apply for relief in the United States.
To receive refugee status, a person must seek assistance only from outside of the United States. The individual is screened and the approval process often takes several years to complete.
The U.N. refugee agency reports nearly 71 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced — a record.
President Donald Trump's opponent in November, Former Vice President Joe Biden, has said if elected he would increase refugee admissions to 125,000 per year.
Aline Barros contributed to this report.