WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump plans to cap refugee admissions at 45,000 over the next year, according to current and former government officials briefed on the decision, setting a historically low limit on the number of people who can resettle in the United States after fleeing persecution in their own countries.
The limit, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is the lowest any White House has sought since 1980, the year that legislation was enacted to give the president a role in determining a cap on refugees. The ceiling has never slipped below 67,000, the number set by then President Ronald Reagan in 1986. In recent years, it has been around 70,000 to 80,000.
Critics said that if the 2018 level is set even lower, it could damage the international reputation of the US. "It's tragic," said Mr Robert Carey, former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under former president Barack Obama.
"It's really moving away from the commitments the government has had for the protections of refugees from both Republican and Democratic administrations," he said. "Some people will die."
Administration officials planned to inform senior lawmakers of the decision yesterday, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorised to pre-empt a formal announcement.
On Monday, 34 senators - all Democrats except for Mr John McCain of Arizona and Ms Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - wrote to President Trump, pleading for a cap higher than 50,000, calling the refugee programme "a critical pillar of our national security and our foreign policy".
"The current global humanitarian crisis requires strong American leadership," the senators wrote, calling for a "robust refugee admissions goal".
In a speech to the United Nations last week, Mr Trump said that more could be done to help refugees in their home regions. Offering financial assistance to hosting countries "is the safe, responsible, and humanitarian approach", he said.
But that type of assistance "ignores all the people who have fled to places that are still not safe", said another former Obama administration official, Ms Anne Richard.
"Those are the people that the US programme really rescues," said Ms Richard, who was assistant secretary for refugees and migration at the State Department.
She said other countries might try to follow suit by closing the door to more refugees.