As President Donald Trump disparaged refugees, most pointedly Somalis, at his Duluth rally Wednesday night, his administration was poised to push for further cuts in refugee resettlement programs.

The proposal, sent to Congress at midnight Wednesday, just 34 minutes before a statutory deadline, would bring the nation’s refugee population to an all-time low.

A maximum of 15,000 refugees would be admitted in fiscal year 2021 — 3,000 fewer than the 18,000 ceiling the administration set for fiscal year 2020.

In Minnesota, the number of refugees coming into the state has dropped dramatically during the last three years, from 2,635 during the 2016 federal fiscal year to 848 in the 2019 fiscal year.

Immigration and refugee advocates in Minnesota had hoped the cap on those numbers wouldn’t be reduced even more because the need is significant, said Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM).

Yet another reduction feels like a betrayal of U.S. ideals and commitments, she said.

“Slashing refugee numbers and refusing admission to desperate people whose lives are in danger, especially those whose lives are in danger because of their service to U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers, is appalling,” Iyer said. “Instead of leading the world in protecting the persecuted, the actions of this administration are an abdication of leadership.”

The administration’s announcement came just after the president’s campaign rally in Duluth, where he assailed his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. He claimed Biden wants to flood the state with foreigners.

“Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp, and he said that — overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating hospitals. You know that.

“It’s already there. It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to your state,” Trump told supporters, who chanted “Lock her up!” when he insulted U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

In response, Omar tweeted: “Let this sink in: not only are refugees welcome in Minnesota, but 78% of my district sent this refugee to Congress.”

Meanwhile, Minnesota faith leaders, activists and legislators plan to hold a news conference and rally Friday, standing in solidarity against Trump’s attacks.

“We know that we are better off together and that all of us, no matter where we come from or how we pray, want our communities to thrive and our voices to be heard,” Isaiah, a Minnesota faith coalition, said in a prepared statement.

“Overcoming tremendous challenges, Somali Minnesotans bravely moved to Minnesota with their families and have helped make this state vibrant.”

The refugee cap the Trump administration had in place for 2020 already was the lowest number of slots since the refugee admission program began.

The program took yet another hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

The administration froze refugee admissions in March, citing a need to protect American jobs as the pandemic ravaged the U.S. economy.

That translated into only 289 refugees entering Minnesota through August, with most coming from Myanmar and Ukraine.

Still, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the administration is committed to the country’s history of leading the world in providing a safe place for refugees.

“We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so,” Pompeo told reporters in Rome on the sidelines of a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy.

“Certainly so long as President Donald Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”

But advocates say the government’s actions demonstrate the opposite. Since taking office, Trump has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country by more than 80%.

The proposed refugee cap for 2021 will be reviewed by Congress, where there are strong objections to the cuts, but lawmakers will be largely powerless to force changes.

Refugee advocates say the Trump administration is dismantling a program that has long enjoyed bipartisan support and has been considered a model for protecting the world’s most vulnerable people.

Scores of resettlement offices have closed because of the drop in federal funding, which is tied to the number of refugees placed in the United States.

And the crisis is reverberating beyond American borders as other countries close their doors to refugees as well.

“We’re talking about tens of millions of desperate families with no place to go and having no hope for protection in the near term,” said Krish Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a federally funded agency charged with resettling refugees in the United States.

 

The Associated Press and staff writer Maya Rao contributed to this report.