The White House is defending President Donald Trump's decision to limit the number of refugees the United States will admit in the 2020 fiscal year to 18,000 — down 78% from the 85,000 cap set during the final year of the previous Obama administration.
"President Trump's decision to close America's doors to refugees fleeing persecution is cruel and shortsighted," former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in a tweet posted Sunday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued that focusing on a refugee number ignores larger efforts the United States makes across the globe to benefit people displaced by war, famine and other catastrophes.
"America's support for refugees and other displaced people extends well beyond our immigration system. It includes diplomatic efforts around the world to find solutions to crises," Pompeo said in a statement. "Addressing the core problems that drive refugees away from their homes helps more people more rapidly than resettling them in the United States."
The administration designated alternative areas of focus for refugee resettlement through the end of September 2020.
They include: refugees persecuted or with a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion (5,000); Iraqis who aided U.S. officials or agencies (4,000); and nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras (1,500).
The remaining 7,500 will come from:
— Referrals by U.S. embassies
— Family reunification ("Priority 3" or a following to join petition)
— Refugees located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea subject to an arrangement between the United States and Australia; and
— Those who were in "Ready for Departure" status as of Sept. 30, 2019.
The last point will allow for those refugees whose travel was delayed as a result of the belated presidential determination.
Since taking office, Trump has attempted to drastically reduce refugee admissions to the U.S. His administration also has tried to restrict the arrival of asylum seekers and Temporary Protected Status holders.
Once a world leader in refugee resettlement, America's receding role has been bemoaned by refugee advocates.
"We are dismayed that this administration fails to recognize the contributions of refugees that are making America great," Refugee Council USA wrote Monday in an open letter to refugees, reacting to the new cap. "Many of us have experienced the relief that comes with resettlement, and, as witnesses to the power of this experience, we will not sit idle. We pledge to continue our efforts to keep America's doors open."
For his part, Pompeo said the new refugee cap is fact and reality-based.
"At the core of the Trump Administration's foreign policy is a commitment to make decisions based on reality, not wishes, and to drive optimal outcomes based on concrete facts. This year's determination on refugee admissions does just that, even as we sustain our longstanding commitment to help vulnerable populations and our leadership as the world's most generous nation," the secretary of state said in the statement.
VOA's Victoria Macchi contributed to this report