US admits lowest number of refugees in more than 40 years

Nearly 22,500 admitted in FY 2017

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(CNN) - The United States admitted 22,491 refugees in the last fiscal year -- one of the lowest amounts on record.

The admissions count for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended on September 30, was less than half the number of refugees admitted in FY 2017 (53,716) and about one-quarter of the number of people admitted in FY 2016 (84,994). According to State Department records going back to 1975, the only year that the US admitted fewer refugees was 1977.

A State Department spokesperson said the reduced number of admissions "was consistent with operational capacity to implement new screening and vetting procedures following Executive Order 13780, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States."

That executive order -- the second iteration of the President's "travel ban" -- was issued by President Donald Trump in March 2017 and the Supreme Court allowed it to go into partial effect in June 2017. It barred people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days unless they could prove a "bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States."

According to the numbers released Tuesday, the US admitted less than 500 refugees overall from all six of the nations restricted by the executive order. The majority of refugees admitted were from the Democratic Republic of Congo (7,878), Burma (3,555), Ukraine (2,635) and Bhutan (2,228).

The executive order also included a 120-day review of the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) that suspended the refugee resettlement program from July to October 2017. Trump issued an executive order in late October 2017 allowing USRAP to resume with enhanced vetting.

The spokesperson said that in response to the executive order "the US government identified additional screening and vetting procedures to enable departments and agencies to more thoroughly review refugee applicants to identify potential threats to public safety and national security."

They noted that "the security checks take time, but they're critical."

In January 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced the new security screening measures meant to further vet refugees applying to enter the United States from certain high-risk countries. The so-called "enhanced vetting measures" were applied to refugees from the 11 countries. The administration is not publicly identifying those countries, but according to the group Refugee Council USA, which represents refugee resettlement agencies and other non-governmental organizations, the list included Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The 22,491 refugees admitted to the country in FY 2018 falls well below the Trump administration's cap for the year of 45,000. The administration proposed to lower this cap for FY 2019 by 33% to 30,000.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the number should not be considered as "the sole barometer" of the US' commitment to humanitarian efforts around the world, adding that the US would "focus on the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country."

The proposal was lambasted by humanitarian organizations.

"The United States is not only abdicating humanitarian leadership and responsibility-sharing in response to the worst global displacement and refugee crisis since World War II, but compromising critical strategic interests and reneging on commitments to allies and vulnerable populations," the International Rescue Committee said.

This article has been updated.

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