By GARDINER HARRISMAY 26, 2017
Khaled Haj Khalaf embraced his daughter Baraa after she arrived with her family at O’Hare Airport in Chicago in February. She had spent five years in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Credit Scott Olson/Getty Images WASHINGTON — Despite repeated efforts by President Trump to curtail refugee resettlements, the State Department this week quietly lifted the department’s restriction on the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States.
The result could be a near doubling of refugees entering the country, from about 830 people a week in the first three weeks of this month to well over 1,500 people per week by next month, according to refugee advocates. Tens of thousands of refugees are waiting to come to the United States.
The State Department’s decision was conveyed in an email on Thursday to the private agencies in countries around the world that help refugees manage the nearly two-year application process needed to enter the United States.
In her email, Jennifer L. Smith, a department official, wrote that the refugee groups could begin bringing people to the United States “unconstrained by the weekly quotas that were in place.”
Although it came the same day as an appeals court ruling that rejected government efforts to limit travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim nations, the move by the State Department had nothing to do with the court ruling.
The department’s quotas on refugee resettlement were largely the result of budget constraints imposed by Congress in a temporary spending measure passed last fall. But when Congress passed a spending bill this month that funded the government for the rest of the fiscal year, the law did not include any restrictions on refugee admissions.
A State Department spokeswoman, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said the department had consulted the Department of Justice about its refugee quotas and had decided to adjust them.
President Trump has sought to lower the ceiling on the number of refugees annually allowed in the country to 50,000 from 110,000. Mr. Trump’s executive orders on immigration, the first of which he issued on Jan. 27, also sought to suspend all refugee admissions for at least four months. Federal judges stayed those orders, but the confusion over them has contributed to a falloff in refugees entering the United States.
While 13,255 refugees were admitted in August, that number plunged to just 2,070 in March. So far during the 2017 fiscal year, 45,732 people have been admitted, just a few thousand short of Mr. Trump’s proposed cap.
Refugee groups now predict that entries into the United States could increase so rapidly that the total number of refugees admitted by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, could exceed 70,000. That is well below the 84,994 refugees admitted in fiscal year 2016, but not by nearly as much as many advocates had feared.
Refugee advocates were delighted by the State Department’s decision.
“This is long overdue, but we’re very happy,” said Mark Hetfield, president and chief executive of HIAS, an immigrant aid society.
But many of the advocates said they were worried that any reprieve would be temporary.
“The president’s proposed budget cuts for 2018 would mean we would have a much smaller program next year no matter what happens with his executive orders,” said Erol Kekic, executive director of the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service.
Perhaps even more worrisome, refugee advocates said they had seen a slowdown in security screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, whose checks are required for refugees to enter the United States.
Still, even Republicans in Congress have said that few of Mr. Trump’s proposed budget cuts to foreign aid and the State Department’s budget would be adopted into law.
In a visit this week to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, Nikki R. Haley, the United Nations ambassador, all but urged Congress to reverse Mr. Trump’s proposed cuts in aid to refugees.
“It’s starting the conversation,” Ms. Haley said of Mr. Trump’s proposed budget, according to The Associated Press. “It doesn’t mean that’s where it will end up. He’s going to have that conversation with Congress on where we should fall on this.”
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