Only about 5,000 refugees have been admitted into the United States in the first three months of fiscal year 2018, far below the same period in recent years, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
At this pace the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. for the entire fiscal year, which began in October, will even fall below the 2018 ceiling of 45,000 that President Donald Trump set last fall, which itself would already be the lowest since the refugee program began in its current form in 1980.
In the previous three years there has been the admission of an average of some 18,000 refugees in the first quarter, with last fiscal year during the same period registering more than 25,000 refugees.
The significantly lower numbers in the first quarter of this fiscal year reflect a range of Trump administration policies, including tougher screening and all but stopping admissions from regions of the world that generate large numbers of refugees.
Refugee advocates say the low numbers are evidence that the administration is rejecting what they consider traditional American leadership in helping some of the world’s most destitute people.
"It’s enormously discouraging and dispiriting, and it is another reflection of this administration’s march away from the principle of humanity," Refugees International president Eric Schwartz told the Journal.
There also has been a dramatic change in the religious makeup of the refugees admitted. While in recent years those who identify as Muslims have been more than 40 percent of all admitted refugees, that number sharply fell to only 14 percent of the total during the first three months of this fiscal year.
This has led critics to bolster their argument that Trump’s aim is to limit as much as possible the admission of Muslims, although the White House denies that the policies are driven by religious affiliation and say the purpose is to protect against the entry of terrorists.
Other officials also have pointed out that numbers in the early months do not necessarily reflect the upcoming trend for the year.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency official Jennifer Higgins told the Journal that "The premise that we are turning our backs on [refugees] is patently wrong," adding that "Our job is to balance the need to protect legitimate refugees with the need to protect our security."
Others have said that in any case the U.S. is better off helping refugees in their home regions than bringing them over.
"We can help people closer to where their homes are," Center for Immigration Studies official Jessica Vaughan said. "That makes it much easier for them to go home if conditions permit."
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