Faith groups decry Trump's plans for record low refugee cap


Refugee advocates, including faith-based groups that President Donald Trump is courting in his re-election bid, called on Congress on Thursday to halt his administration's plans to slash the limit on refugees allowed into the US to a record low, saying it goes against America's values.

In a notice sent to Congress late on Wednesday, just 34 minutes before a statutory deadline to do so, the government unveiled its proposal to allow 15,000 refugees into the country in the fiscal year that started on Thursday.

The number is 3,000 fewer than the historically low ceiling of 18,000 that Trump set for the fiscal year that ended on Wednesday. Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian aid agency, said Trump has reneged on his promise to protect persecuted Christians in the world.

"Instead, we've seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90 per cent in some cases over the last four years," Arbeiter said in a statement. "This is unconscionable."

The administration's plan was released as Trump vilified refugees as an unwanted burden for the country at a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota. He assailed his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, who has vowed to raise the ceiling on refugee admissions to 125,000 if elected.

"Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp, and he said that – overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating hospitals. You know that. It's already there. It's a disgrace what they've done to your state," Trump told supporters.

He then blasted Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who arrived to the United States as a Somali refugee and now represents Minneapolis in Congress, saying: "How the hell did Minnesota elect her? What the hell is wrong with you people, right?"

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights organisation, denounced the chipping away of the refugee programme as part of "the ongoing Trump administration effort to maintain systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy."

Since taking office, Trump has cut the number of refugees allowed into the country by more than 80 per cent, reflecting his broader efforts to drastically reduce legal and illegal immigration.

The plans to further close the door on refugees angered faith-based organisations as the president seeks to energise Christian social conservatives in key states to help him win a second term.

Rev. John L. McCullough, head of the Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in the United States, described the shrinking of refugee admissions as immoral and urged Congress to step in, though the president ultimately makes the decision on refugees allowed in under the 1980 Refugee Act. Congress can recommend changes or seek to influence the decision through budgeting, but is largely powerless to alter the determination.

"The proposed refugee resettlement number of 15,000, a more than 80 per cent cut over historic norms, is unacceptable. Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people's lives are in danger," McCullough said in a statement.

He added: "But for the past three years, President Trump and his administration have strayed so far from these basic principles in the name of their cruel, racist and partisan goals that the life-saving refugee resettlement programme is a shadow of what it once was."  (AP)

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