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Retired engineer John Wider, 59, holds up a sign reading "Welcome Refugees" as international travelers arrive at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake(reuters_tickers)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration plans to admit up to 45,000 refugees to the United States in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, a former U.S. official said on Tuesday, a ceiling that would keep admissions to their lowest level in over a decade.
The White House settled on the figure after a contentious debate between officials who wanted a lower ceiling and those who wanted a higher one, said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On one side of the debate were officials who tended to look at the issue through a domestic political prism given President Donald Trump’s focus on curbing immigration during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
On the other were foreign policy experts who argued that taking refugees into the United States is vital to ensure other nations keep their borders open.
The plan to set the cap at 45,000 was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal newspaper.
The former official, who favoured a higher number, said the decision will undermine the U.S. ability to persuade nations such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon that have accepted huge flows of Syrian refugees to keep admitting them as well as to convince donor nations to keep up financial contributions for refugees.
"We have no standing to play that role when we cut our own humanitarian assistance and when we are halving our refugee admissions," said the former official.
In his two travel ban executive orders, Trump directed the United States to accept a maximum of 50,000 refugees for permanent resettlement in the fiscal 2017 year ending Sept. 30, less than half the 110,000 President Barack Obama authorized.
In part because of court challenges to those orders, the United States ultimately accepted more than 50,000 refugees during the current fiscal year. According to State Department data, the United States took in 51,392 refugees through August.
If the United States accepts 45,000 in fiscal 2018, it would be the lowest level admitted since fiscal 2006, when it took in 41,223, according to State Department data.
A State Department spokesman declined comment on the 45,000 figure, saying only that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke would consult Congress on Wednesday.
"Each year, the president makes an annual determination, after appropriate consultation with Congress, regarding the refugee admissions ceiling for the following Fiscal Year. Secretary Tillerson and DHS Acting Secretary Duke will consult with Congress tomorrow," he said.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Michael Perry)