The U.S. refugee program surpassed the Trump administration's 50,000-person cap on Wednesday, meaning that many refugees will now be denied entry into the country.
The cap is expected to affect thousands of refugees. Last fiscal year, the U.S. admitted just under 85,000 refugees, and former President Barack Obama had aimed to resettle 110,000 refugees this fiscal year. But President Trump lowered the cap dramatically in his "travel ban" executive orders, and the cap went into effect on June 29.
"The State Department initially told resettlement agencies it expected to hit that threshold by July 6," NPR's Jackie Northam reports. "But that date came and went and the number of refugees entering the country wasn't reached. So the date was extended to July 12."
The total number of admitted refugees reached 50,086 by Wednesday afternoon. A State Department official tells NPR that the department decided to set the cutoff at the end of the day, instead of at the exact number 50,000, to keep the process "orderly."
That number of admitted refugees could still rise by several thousand, as refugees with close family members already in the U.S. will continue to be allowed to enter the country, under the terms of a recent Supreme Court order.
You may recall that Trump established the 50,000-person cap in his initial and revised "travel ban" executive orders. For months, those orders were blocked from implementation. But in June, the Supreme Court announced it would consider the merits of the ban and that in the meantime, portions of the second executive order could go forward — as long as they didn't block people who had a "bona fide relationship" with the U.S.
The administration later defined "bona fide" ties as including parents, children and siblings in the U.S., but not grandparents or more extended family members. Bona fide ties also include job offers in the U.S.
Refugees who do not have such ties will no longer be admitted this fiscal year, even if they have completed the two-year vetting process to enter the refugee program. The next fiscal year begins in October.
Last month, NPR's Michele Kelemen explained what's at stake:
"[R]efugees have arrived in the U.S. this fiscal year from all over the world — from Syria, of course, but also Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan. It's really a global humanitarian program. ...
"I'm told thousands could be affected by [the cap]. One refugee resettlement agency told me today that they usually book people about three weeks ahead of time. ... It's not just airline tickets. Refugees have to go through medical screenings. And those clearances don't last forever. If they rebook for later, they might have to redo all of that medical screening and security checks."
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which resettles refugees in the U.S., said in a statement that the cap "will mean that vulnerable refugees, including those with severe medical needs, torture survivors, unaccompanied refugee children, and persecuted religious minorities will continue to be in harm's way."
The pause on refugee admissions "will have an immediate effect on our ability to conduct the lifesaving work of providing safety and protection," Kay Bellor, a vice president at LIRS, said in the statement.
Trump's executive order proclaims that admitting more than 50,000 refugees "would be detrimental to the interests of the United States." It allows for individual refugees to be admitted on a "case-by-case basis," based on the joint judgment of the secretary of state and secretary of Homeland Security.