The Trump administration is in discussions to reduce the number of refugee admissions to as low as 15,000, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing current and former government officials familiar with the discussions.
Trump promised during last year’s presidential campaign to deny admittance to refugees who posed a terrorist threat.
In his first days in office, Trump capped the number at 50,000 as part of a temporary travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries. That was less than half the 110,000 refugees former President Barack Obama said should be admitted in 2016.
As the deadline approaches for Trump to issue the annual determination for refugee admission numbers required by the Refugee Act of 1980, some inside the administration — led by Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior adviser for policy — have pressed to set the ceiling even lower.
The issue has created an intense debate within the White House, with Miller and some officials at the Department of Homeland Security citing security concerns and limited resources as grounds for deeply cutting the number of admissions, and officials at the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Council opposing a precipitous drop.
Miller has advocated for reducing the quota to 15,000, and the president’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon was in favor of reducing it to 10,000.
By law, the president must consult with Congress and make a decision by the start of each fiscal year, October 1, on the refugee ceiling.
A senior administration official has said there is a “broader rethinking of how the United States deals with migrants” that is based on the idea that it is more effective and affordable to help people outside the US’s borders than within them, given the current backlog.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed for Trump’s temporary travel ban to continue as it considers challenges to it, and will hear arguments next month.
Should Trump move ahead with scaling back refugee resettlement, it would be the second time in as many weeks that he has used executive authority to reduce the immigration levels entering the US.
Last week, he moved to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that grants protection from deportation to undocumented people brought to the United States as children.
Since the Refugee Act of 1980, which codified the president’s role in determining a ceiling for refugee admissions, the average limit has been about 94,000 worldwide. It has slipped below 70,000 just once, in 1986, when Ronald Reagan set it at 67,000.