Within days of President Trump calling on the world to end religious persecution in a speech at the United Nations, his administration has slashed the number of refugees the US will admit to an all-time low.
On Thursday, the White House announced it will cap the number of refugees the US receives next year at 18,000. That's down from the 30,000 ceiling the US allowed this year and a drastic reduction from previous years.
During the final full year of the Obama presidency, the ceiling was 85,000. Since then, the numbers have steadily declined under the Trump administration. When the US refugee program began in 1980, it allowed 231,000 people fleeing persecution to enter the country.
The White House says this year's cuts are necessary, given the backlog of asylum seekers at the southern border. It emphasized that in addition to the 18,000 refugees the US is prepared to receive, it will also process more than 350,000 asylum claims.
An official statement explained, "This proposed ceiling takes into account the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis on our border and the massive asylum backlog, which now includes nearly one million individuals."
Evangelical leaders have protested the potential refugee cut for the last several months since a Politico story warned that the administration was considering further reductions.
In July, the Evangelical Immigration Table urged the administration to reject advice to reduce the refugee numbers. Those signing the letter included Rev. Sam Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and one of the president's faith advisors; Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Chris Palusky, the president of Bethany Christian Services; Doug Clay, the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA; and Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
The administration's new ceiling will impact refugees worldwide who are fleeing persecution and seeking a safe haven.
It will also affect evangelical organizations in the US that seek to help them resettle here. In recent years, as the Trump administration has steadily cut the number of refugees, the organizations have had to cut back on staff and close offices.
Bethany Christian Services told CBN News the US State Department has already canceled more than 30 plane tickets for refugees to come to the US through Bethany in October.
"Shrinking the refugee resettlement program threatens the lives of thousands of children and families escaping violence and persecution," said Bethany president Chris Palusky.
Tim Breen, the CEO of World Relief, worried about the ripple effect. "If America continues to systematically shutter the program designed to welcome and offer safe haven to human beings made in the image of God, we fear that other countries will continue to follow our example, doing less at a time when the number of refugees in need of protection globally is increasing," he said.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) pushed back against the administration's decision, noting the president's UN speech admonition to end religious persecution. "Doing so means we should continue to share our values throughout the world and we can also be an example of being a safe haven for those legitimately fleeing persecution," he said.
Lankford argued that working to curb illegal immigration and care for asylum seekers doesn't mean the US must reduce the number of refugees it accepts.
Refugee advocates are worried about another new refugee policy the White House announced Thursday. An executive order requires state and local governments to consent to receive refugees in their communities.
The White House said the order will increase the refugee resettlement program's transparency and allow states and local governments that don't have the capacity to deny refugees the ability to resettle in their area.
But advocates say the new order will create problems for family reunification, as many refugees try to settle near to their close family members.