US Cuts Number of Refugees to Lowest Level in Four Decades, Drawing Jewish Communal Criticism

Refugees, advocates, and faith leaders rally in front of the White House to call for refugee protections on World Refugee Day. June 20, 2017.

(JTA) — The United States will cut the number of refugees that it will accept for 2019 to the lowest level set since the Refugee Act became law in 1980, drawing condemnation from Jewish groups.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that up to 30,000 refugees will be resettled in the United States next year under the new refugee ceiling, down from 45,000 this year.

Global humanitarian groups have called the 2018 ceiling of 45,000 too low. Since 1980, the average annual ceiling has been set at 96,229 refugees.

In addition, more than 280,000 asylum seekers will be processed. There are over 800,000 asylum seekers who are already inside the United States and awaiting adjudication of their claims, Pompeo said.

“These expansive figures continue the United States’ longstanding record of the most generous nation in the world when it comes to protection-based immigration and assistance,” he told reporters.

The Jewish refugee aid organization HIAS condemned the proposed refugee resettlement ceiling.

“President Trump has once again betrayed America’s history and global leadership in providing safe haven for innocent human beings fleeing violence and persecution,” HIAS President Mark Hetfield said. “By setting the refugee number this low, this administration is betraying the commitments we made after World War II – followed by decades of bipartisan support – to ensure that the world never again turns its back on innocent people seeking safety. During a period of unprecedented crisis, America has signaled it is a nation in retreat, and as a result the outlook for refugees looks even more bleak.”

Pompeo defended the new refugee ceiling, telling reporters on Monday that it “reflects our commitment, our commitment to protect the most vulnerable around the world while prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people, as President Trump has directed. We must continue to responsibly vet applicants to prevent the entry of those who might do harm to our country.”

He noted that total U.S. humanitarian assistance worldwide was more than $8 billion in the previous year, which he said was more than any other country.

“This year’s proposed refugee ceiling must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, also condemned the ceiling, calling it “a moral failure and yet another attack by this administration on refugees seeking haven from unimaginable circumstances.”

“These xenophobic immigration policies fly in the face of our values as Americans,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “Now many people fleeing for their lives will not find safety in this country — a country that should be a beacon of hope and freedom for all.”

He added: “The Jewish community knows all too well what can happen when desperate people have nowhere to turn. We must stand up against this heartless attack on refugees and demand that our country not turn its back on people desperately searching for refuge.”

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