The Trump administration is considering a virtual shutdown of refugee admissions next year — cutting the number to nearly zero — according to three people familiar with the plan.
During a key meeting of security officials on refugee admissions last week, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representative who is closely aligned with White House immigration adviser Stephen Miller suggested setting a cap at zero, the people said. Homeland Security Department officials at the meeting later floated making the level anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000, according to one of the people.
The proposal for a near-shutdown of the refugee program is alarming officials at the Department of Defense, who don’t want to see a halt in admissions of Iraqis who risked their lives assisting U.S. forces in that country. The possible move comes after the Trump administration cut refugee admissions by a third this year, to 30,000.
If the administration shuts down refugee admissions, it would give President Donald Trump a powerful talking point as he makes immigration restrictions a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.
At the same time, it would strand thousands of people already far along in the process and damage the ability of resettlement agencies to process refugees in future years, according to advocates tracking the issue.
“In the long-term, it would mean that the capacity and the ability of the United States to resettle refugees would be completely decimated,” said Jen Smyers, a director with Church World Service, one of the nine U.S. resettlement agencies.
The State Department declined to discuss the possible cap. The departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense and the National Security Council, which had representatives at the meeting, did not respond to requests for comment.
The meeting of roughly 20 officials last week, which took place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, represents a preliminary step in the annual process of setting the admissions cap, according to those with knowledge of it.
USCIS official John Zadrozny and the State Department’s Andrew Veprek — both known as Miller allies — argued in the meeting that the refugee cap should be low because of ongoing security concerns and the ability of the U.S. to offer humanitarian protections through the asylum process, according to an attendee.
While the two programs similarly protect people facing persecution, refugees apply for protection from overseas, while asylum seekers apply once they’ve arrived at the border or entered the U.S. on a legal visa. Proponents of the refugee program contend it offers the U.S. diplomatic and military leverage internationally beyond its humanitarian aims.
But even as Trump officials weigh dramatically cutting refugee admissions, the administration also has sought to greatly reduce the availability of asylum. A sweeping regulation issued this week would block migrants who pass through another country en route to the U.S. from seeking asylum. The measure — already the subject of two lawsuits — could choke off the majority of asylum claims.
The Miller allies asserted at the meeting that the refugee determination didn’t matter because it was a ceiling, not a floor, and the administration still retained the discretion to admit fewer people, according to one of the people with knowledge of it.