Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli suggested Thursday that contemplated reductions in refugee admissions might be scaled back following a Supreme Court asylum ruling Wednesday evening.
In a major victory for President Donald Trump, the
high court gave his administration permission Wednesday to implement a sweeping ban on asylum seekers who pass through another country en route to the U.S. The third-country asylum ban is expected to choke off claims by Central Americans and other migrants who transit through Mexico.
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With a reduction in asylum cases, Cuccinelli suggested, resources might be redirected to processing refugee claims. Asylum applies to migrants who seek refuge at the border or inside the U.S.; refugee status is sought by applicants abroad.
Speaking to several reporters after an event hosted by Axios, Cuccinelli said the court’s ruling could become a factor in discussions over where to set the coming year’s refugee ceiling. Trump
cut refugee levels down to the 30,000 in the current fiscal year, a steep decrease over the 110,000 proposed by former President Barack Obama before he left office. Trump administration officials have considered slashing admissions again in fiscal year 2020 — possibly even reducing levels to zero.
“It hasn’t necessarily been connected yet, but last night’s Supreme Court decision does affect the humanitarian space,” Cuccinelli said Thursday morning.
The acting USCIS director said it’s a question of resources, since the same personnel can be used to process asylum applications domestically and refugee claims overseas. The agency faces a 330,000-case backlog of asylum claims, he said.
“All the same people have to do that work,” he said. “I haven’t even been back to the office yet since the Supreme Court ruling, so how that may affect our analysis is yet undetermined.”
Cuccinelli also fielded a question about Trump’s decision to designate him one of the 10 officials to receive a special government-funded personal driver from his home to the office, which POLITICO
first reported in June.
Cuccinelli said he’s using the benefit most days and doesn’t know the expense to taxpayers yet. USCIS said in June that he was driving himself to the office.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report mischaracterized how refugees apply for protection in the U.S. Refugee status is sought by applicants abroad.
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