The White House is considering a second sharp reduction in the number of refugees who can be resettled in the United States, picking up where President Trump left off in 2017 in scaling back a program intended to offer protection to the world’s most vulnerable people, according to two former government officials and another person…
The White House is considering a second sharp reduction in the number of refugees who can be resettled in the United States, picking up where President Trump left off in 2017 in scaling back a program intended to offer protection to the world’s most vulnerable people, according to two former government officials and another person familiar with the talks.
This time, the effort is meeting with less resistance from inside the Trump administration because of the success that Stephen Miller, the president’s senior policy adviser and an architect of his anti-immigration agenda, has had in installing allies in key positions who are ready to sign off on deep cuts.
Last year, after a fierce internal battle that pitted Mr. Miller, who advocated a limit as low as 15,000, against officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Pentagon, Mr. Trump set the cap at 45,000, a historic low. Under one plan currently being discussed, no more than 25,000 refugees could be resettled in the United States next year, a cut of more than 40 percent from this year’s limit. It would be the lowest number of refugees admitted to the country since the creation of the program in 1980.
The program’s fate could hinge on Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state. His department has traditionally been a strong advocate for the refugee program, but Mr. Pompeo is now being advised by two senior aides who are close to Mr. Miller and share his hard-line approach, according to the people briefed on the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal internal deliberation about a decision that has yet to be completed.
record level of turnover in the administration, Mr. Miller has succeeded in surrounding himself with figures who may be more amenable to gutting refugee admissions.
Two of the three cabinet secretaries who pushed back last year — Rex W. Tillerson, the former secretary of state, and Elaine Duke, the former acting secretary of homeland security — have been replaced with officials who have worked hard to show their loyalty to the president: Mr. Pompeo and Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security and an ally of John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, who once said privately that his ideal refugee cap would be somewhere between zero and one.
said 16,230 had been resettled as of the end of June, putting the program on pace to admit only around 21,000 this year — as evidence, although those figures followed a year in which refugee admissions were frozen for months on end while officials conducted reviews that Mr. Trump ordered.
“This year, the people in the administration who lost that debate over the ceiling still wanted low refugee numbers, so in essence they have manufactured those low numbers, which become the new baseline,” said Barbara Strack, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security who was deeply involved in the process in 2017. “Several of the voices that I considered more moderate last year are not there any more, and in their place are more ideological people that are likely in the lowball camp.”
The White House is casting the debate over how many refugees to admit as a domestic political consideration, alluding in its statement to Democrats in Congress who the White House official said had “refused” to sign on to legislation to tighten immigration enforcement and prioritize “legitimate” asylum claims.
But throughout its history, the refugee program has been seen instead as a component of American foreign policy. It has allowed the military to protect translators in Iraq who have risked their lives to work for American forces, for instance, as well as others who have aided United States missions around the world. Resettlement of those groups has also slowed to a trickle this year.
Setting the cap at 25,000 would restrict the number of refugees permitted to resettle in the United States next year to fewer than the number admitted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a temporary halt to the program and new security restrictions drove those figures to their lowest since 1980.
Even then, President George W. Bush kept the program’s ceiling at 70,000 through the rest of his tenure, raising it to 80,000 during his final year in office.
Ms. Strack and others who have extensive experience with the refugee program argue that the crisis that White House officials cite is of their own making, following a deliberate policy not to prioritize refugees or install enough people to properly vet them and handle their cases.
“The issue is not either the need internationally or ability to process these refugees, it’s the administration’s will,” said Mary Giovagnoli, the director of Refugee Council USA, which represents a coalition of refugee resettlement and advocacy groups. “There’s a continued concentration of power in the hands of folks who don’t support a robust refugee program.”
The trend has prompted fear among lawmakers in both parties who are proponents of the program, which traditionally has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but so far only Democrats have publicly complained.
In a letter to Mr. Pompeo in May, a dozen Democratic senators called Mr. Veprek’s appointment “just another troubling signal that this administration intends to continue dismantling our nation’s already crippled refugee program, with little regard for both the real-life and geopolitical implications of the policy.”