The refugee program was also temporarily suspended because of the coronavirus. Immigration advocates say the administration’s system of harsh vetting and its ever-lowering cap have stranded some of the most desperate people in the world.
The administration’s approach “leaves tens of thousands of the most vulnerable refugees in danger and in many cases separated from their families,” said Nazanin Ash, the vice president of public policy at the International Rescue Committee. Such refugees, she added, “have followed all the rules and cleared all the security checks — sometimes waiting as long as two years for a lifeline to the U.S.”
Mr. Trump’s assault on the refugee system has been multifaceted. Last year, the president issued an executive order allowing state and local governments to veto the resettlement of refugees, which critics said would stoke division and energize Mr. Trump’s supporters. That order is currently blocked by a lawsuit making its way through the court system. Most states also elected to accept refugees.
Mr. Trump also ended the system of reserving slots for Africa, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and instead carved out slots for 4,000 Iraqis who worked with the United States military, 1,500 for people from Central America and 5,000 for people persecuted for their religion. The additional 7,500 slots were reserved for others seeking family reunification who had been cleared for resettlement.
But even with the numbers set so low, the administration did not fill the slots, according to State Department data. Of the 4,000 openings for Iraqis who helped the military, only 123 were welcomed to the United States.
“They continue to cut what would normally be seen as legal ways to immigrate,” said David Lapan, a former spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration. “They say they want people to get in line and follow the system, except they’re doing everything they can to change that system.”
Traveling in Italy this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to defend the administration’s record on humanitarian assistance. When the Italian foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, was asked on Tuesday if the United States was doing enough to help millions of refugees around the world, Mr. Pompeo stepped in to answer: “There’s no more generous nation anywhere in the world when it comes to alleviating human crises around the world.”