The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed admitting a maximum of 45,000 refugees next year, the lowest cap in decades, which officials said was necessary to ensure USA security as the government tightens its screening and vetting processes.
US officials say the new cap advances national security interests and reflects the country's capacity to properly screen and take in refugees.
"But this number was reached after taking a look at these requirements, and we believe that we can get into the ballpark of this number, of this ceiling", one USA official said.
"The security and safety of the American people is our chief concern", one senior USA government official told reporters on a conference call, later adding that the number is "consistent with our foreign policy goals and operational capacity in light of additional security vetting procedures that we are implementing, and the domestic asylum backlog that (the Department of Homeland Security) is now facing".
The 45,000 total is broken down into regions.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is disturbed by this morning's reports that the Trump Administration is set to cap the annual admissions ceiling for refugees at 45,000.
Administration officials said one reason for the lower cap this year is that Department of Homeland Security staff are being re-directed to deal with a growing backlog of cases of foreigners already in the United States who are seeking asylum for fear of persecution.
The proposed refugee limit represents a cut of more than half from the refugee ceiling set last year by former President Barack Obama, and is much lower than the 75,000 limit suggested by refugee advocates this year. DHS officers interview both asylum and refugee applicants.
"We need to ensure refugee resettlement opportunities go to those who are eligible for such protection and who are not known to present a risk to the safety or the security of our country".
The new cap is the lowest in decades for the USA refugee admission program and marks an especially steep decline from recent years.
The officials who briefed reporters on Wednesday emphasized that the U.S. remains the world's leading donor of humanitarian assistance, and leads in permanent resettlement of refugees (with a very slight edge over Canada). That order was delayed by legal action, but was ultimately implemented for refugees who could not demonstrate "bona fide" family ties in the United States. But the U.S.is not the largest refugee host, with countries neighboring Syria, for example, forced to handle millions of refugees -- more than three million in Turkey and one million in Lebanon alone. "I pray that America does not lose its heart and soul".
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement the new cap "is devastating to tens of thousands of innocent people, and a blow to America's standing as the premier global humanitarian leader".
A State Department official says that since 1980, the president makes the final determination after the administration consults with Congress, meaning "there's always a chance it could change" and Trump could decrease or increase the number on his own. Last year, the Obama administration proposed 14,000 unallocated admissions. "Secretary Tillerson and DHS Acting Secretary Duke will consult with Congress tomorrow", he said.