Trump plans 45,000 limit on refugees admitted to US

People take part in a rally in New York to protest the restrictive guidelines issued by the US on who qualifies as a close familial relationship under the Supreme Court order on the Muslim and refugee ban. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - 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 legislation was enacted giving the president a role in determining a cap on refugees; the ceiling has never slipped lower than 67,000, the number Ronald Reagan set in 1986.

Administration officials plan to inform senior lawmakers of the decision on Wednesday (Sept 27), according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorised to pre-empt a formal announcement.

Trump's decision follows a fierce internal debate among senior members of his administration. Military and foreign policy officials pressed for resettling more refugees as a national security and moral imperative, while other top officials, led by Stephen Miller, his top policy adviser, and backed by John Kelly, his chief of staff and former secretary of homeland security, advocated slashing the number to as low as 15,000 based on concerns about cost and safety.

Defence and State Department officials, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of the US mission to the United Nations, had recommended that Trump admit at least 50,000 refugees during the next fiscal year, according to several people briefed on the debate.

That was the number that Trump had laid out in his original travel ban executive order issued during his first week in office in January, while the Department of Homeland Security had suggested 40,000.

Both numbers were far lower than the 110,000 limit President Barack Obama had placed on refugees last year, and the 75,000 limit resettlement agencies said was necessary to begin to meet humanitarian needs around the world.

But Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, ultimately lowered his recommended limit to 45,000, the people said, and that was the number presented to Trump.

The White House declined to comment on the decision or on the deliberations surrounding it.

Refugee assistance groups reacted with outrage to the anticipated cap, calling it a departure from the American tradition of welcoming immigrants in times of need.

"The threat of a drastically low ceiling on refugee arrivals in the US is contrary to American values and the spirit of generosity in American churches and communities," said Linda Hartke, the president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.