President Trump Sets Lowest Refugee Ceiling Ever
President Donald Trump announced on October 28 that the Fiscal Year 2021 refugee ceiling will be 15,000, with some additional restrictions on eligibility. In FY 2020, the president set the refugee ceiling at 18,000. The U.S. did not reach the 18,000-ceiling due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and only admitted around 12,000 refugees.
The order calls for categories within the FY2021 15,000 ceiling: 5,000 for people fleeing religious persecution, 4,000 for Iraqis who helped the United States during the Iraq War, 1,000 for refugees from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The remaining 5,000 slots do not have any categorical restraints.
President Trump has set the annual refugee ceiling lower each year since taking office. His opponent in the 2020 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, promises to set the refugee ceiling at 125,000 if elected.
Unlike other aspects of immigration law, the president has direct control over the refugee ceiling. 8 USC §1157 reads that, “the number of refugees who may be admitted under this section in any fiscal year after fiscal year 1982 shall be such number as the president determines, before the beginning of the fiscal year and after appropriate consultation, is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest” (emphasis added). Without legislative action and presidential approval, President Trump’s opponents in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives can do little to encourage a higher ceiling.
Democrats in the House introduced legislation to strip the president of his executive authority in this matter. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and 95 Democratic co-sponsors introduced H.R. 2146, Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement Act in April 2019. H.R. 2146 amends the Immigration and Nationality Act by imposing a floor of 95,000 refugees every year, and ceding to the president only the authority to raise that number.