The Trump administration may consider making a significant reduction to the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. beginning next month due to a massive backlog of more than 900,000 asylum cases, a senior administration official told Fox News Friday.
The number of people seeking asylum is severely limiting how many refugees can be vetted, the official said, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) might not even hit this year’s cap of 30,000 refugees. The Associated Press reported that 28,501 refugees were accepted between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 6.
USCIS is in the process of reassigning workers who process refugee cases to handle asylum claims, which have put a strain on the system, the official said, stressing that the crisis at the southern border takes priority over processing refugee claims.
The New York Times reported that top officials will meet in the Situation Room on Tuesday to discuss new proposals to the refugee cap, which is set by the president. The Associated Press reported that some officials have argued for the cap to be set as low as 15,000, while the Times reported that others have argued the cap should be reduced all the way to zero.
It's unclear what direction the White House will take in setting the new refugee policy, or if a new cap will be reconfigured to include both refugees and asylum seekers.
President Trump has a Sept. 30 deadline to set the refugee cap.
In fiscal year 2018, the cap was 45,000 and 22,491 were admitted. That's one-quarter of the number allowed to enter two years ago and the lowest since Congress passed a law in 1980 creating the modern resettlement system.
The reduced number of refugees being admitted is due to the more stringent protocols for citizens from 11 countries that the administration has said present the greatest security threat, and the State Department has acknowledged there are fewer refugee admissions due to the screening and vetting procedures.
The tighter screening procedures reflect President Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Administration officials have said the U.S. remains at the forefront of helping those fleeing persecution, and they note that from the 2008 budget year to 2017, the U.S. gave lawful permanent resident status to 1.7 million people for humanitarian reasons.
Fox News' John Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.