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Trump administration sets refugee cap at 15,000, a new historic low

The Trump administration has informed Congress it intends to accept only 15,000 refugees this fiscal year, a new historic low for the US.

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Jennifer Hansler
Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
CNN — The Trump administration has informed Congress it intends to accept only 15,000 refugees this fiscal year, a new historic low for the US.

Since coming into office in 2017, the Trump administration has increasingly slashed the annual refugee cap, which determines how many may enter the US, to deeper lows.

In a note sent less than an hour before the end of fiscal year 2020 on Tuesday, the State Department said the US "anticipates receiving more than 300,000 new refugees and asylum claims in Fiscal Year 2021." However, the vast majority of those would be asylum cases.

"Of that number, up to 15,000 would be refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and more than 290,000 would be individuals in new asylum cases," the State Department note said.

The proposal for fiscal year 2021 allows 3,000 fewer refugees than in the last fiscal year. The US had been already on course during the 2020 fiscal year to admit the lowest level of refugees since 1980 when the coronavirus pandemic hit and led to a pause in arrivals until late July. Only a little more than 9,000 refugees had been admitted to the US as of August 31, according to the Refugee Processing Center.

The State Department claimed that the "President's proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration's continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic."

"It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases -- now more than 1.1 million individuals -- by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection," the agency said in the note released late Tuesday night. "It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

The note also said the proposed refugee resettlement program contains "specific allocations for people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the United States has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba, and Venezuela." The State Department has consistently assailed those in power in the latter three countries.

Each year, the administration sets a cap for how many refugees may be admitted to the US. Historically, the number of admissions has fluctuated according to world events, though they've generally been high. From fiscal years 1990 to 1995, for example, many refugees arriving to the US were from the former Soviet Union, according to the Pew Research Center.

In the last few years of the Obama presidency, the administration moved toward increasingly high caps, up to 110,000 in fiscal year 2017 amid the Syrian crisis.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, has pledged to restore high levels of refugee admissions if elected, setting an annual target of 125,000.

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