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With Lawsuits Pending, Trump Moves to Cut Refugee Admissions

Trump's proposals face broad opposition in Congress and among refugee advocates

Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 after two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country, photo: AP/Craig Ruttle
7 months ago

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is moving to significantly reduce the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States, even as his bid to temporarily suspend admissions is stalled in the courts. The latest effort comes through Trump’s federal budget proposal, which calls for a 25 percent cut in funds for resettling refugees on U.S. soil.

If approved by Congress, the 2018 budget blueprint would lower overall refugee funding to $2.7 billion from $3.1 billion — a 13 percent drop. That includes U.S. contributions to international aid groups helping refugees in other countries.

But the funds specifically earmarked for U.S. refugee admissions would face a steeper reduction, to $410 million from $544.7 million as recently as 2016. Figures for the current fiscal year, which ends in September, aren’t available yet.

The budget request also eliminates the separate emergency refugee and migration funds that Congress allocated $50 million to in the 2017 appropriations bill. Spending for such programs would be consolidated into the broader refugee account, meaning less cash could be available for new refugee crises.

Trump’s proposals face broad opposition in Congress and among refugee advocates but reflect his consistent push to tighten refugee rules. His battle to suspend refugee entries and ban visas for citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries appears set to go to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court last week upheld a judge’s earlier decision to block the new restrictions.

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly vowed to ban Muslims — notably including refugees from Syria — from entering the U.S. until “extreme vetting” measures were established to determine that they don’t pose a threat. U.S. officials and refugee advocates maintain that refugees are already subjected to comprehensive vetting.

Last week, in response to Congress’ latest spending bill, the State Department rescinded a limit on refugee admissions it had imposed amid budgetary and legal uncertainty early this year.

While officials said they couldn’t predict the impact of Trump’s proposed cuts to the refugee admissions program, they said it will almost certainly mean fewer refugees eventually accepted into the country. The impact may be delayed because “significant” funds for 2017 resettlement that were held up by Trump’s now-blocked executive order will carry over into 2018, according to two officials who deal with refugee admissions. They weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Congress has yet to weigh in on the budget. Lawmakers of both parties have said they oppose many of Trump’s spending proposals, which include a 31-percent cut to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Despite federal court injunctions and possible congressional action, Trump may go another route to reducing admissions.

Officials are bracing for a possible steep cut in the target for refugee admissions. Trump must determine the target by the start of the next budget year on Oct. 1. His March immigration order that has been halted by the courts had capped the number at 50,000. That is less than half of the 110,000 target former President Barack Obama adopted last September.

With Trump’s cap not yet coming into effect, the State Department appears to be trying to admit the maximum number of refugees possible under court rulings and available money.

On May 25, the department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration notified refugee advocacy groups that it would lift an admissions limit it imposed early this year because of budget uncertainties, officials said.

It had limited admissions to 900 refugees per week, compared to an average of 2,000 admitted per week in 2016.

The numbers are unlikely to rise as high as the pre-Trump level this year, officials said. Any increase is likely to be gradual and probably won’t be reflected in actual admissions for several weeks.


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