President Trump’s administration will turn away persecuted Christians who seek to bypass a new cap on numbers claiming asylum at the border, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.
"We'll turn them back," Cuccinelli told reporters on 27 September.
In US law, asylum can be claimed when a person reaches a port of entry to the US, and for up to a year after they arrive in the US. However, a refugee is someone of “special humanitarian concern” who is located outside of the US and is not already firmly resettled in another country. Refugees must also receive a referral to the US through the Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee.
The new 18,000 limit nearly halves the previous annual refugee cap of 30,000. But the lower refugee limit doesn't impact on the number of grants of asylum, meaning people can still enter the US and then seek protection from persecution.
The new refugee cap includes 4,000 places for Iraqis who worked with the US military, 1,500 for Central Americans, and 5,000 for religiously persecuted people. There are another 7,500 places without a specific designation.
Cuccinelli said persecuted Christians who walk across the southern border to claim asylum would be ineligible under a recent policy that seeks to deny asylum to people who enter the US after first reaching Mexico.
“The refugee cap was divided up in a way that reflects America’s priorities. That doesn't mean there aren’t millions of refugees around the world,” Cuccinelli said. "If they haven't tried to claim asylum in a country they've come through – this doesn't apply to people from Mexico, for instance – then under the now existing asylum rule, they no longer qualify," he added.