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The administration is cutting the number of refugees the U.S. will take, and that’s attracting criticism from some evangelicals

The Trump administration announced Sept. 26 it will only accept 18,000 refugee applicants next year, a fraction of the number allowed under President Obama. (Video: Reuters)

The Trump administration announced this week that it will slash the number of refugees allowed into the United States to an all-time low. But the plan is a reminder that the president’s hard-line immigration policies often go beyond attempting to curtail illegal immigration — and end up directly affecting some among the groups that support Trump most strongly.

The administration capped the number of refugees who can be admitted next year at 18,000 — a 40 percent drop from the 2019 cap. This is the third consecutive year that the administration has slashed the program. In Barack Obama’s final year in the White House, nearly 85,000 refugees were admitted.

The move was not all that shocking to some who have followed the issue closely, although it still drew expressions of disapproval from some conservative Christians.

Reaction was most critical from leaders of Christian organizations that help resettle refugees.

Sister Donna Markham, president and chief executive of Catholic Charities USA, released a statement saying America’s policies toward refugees should be generous.

“Any policy, however, should include generous provisions for accepting refugees who cannot return to their homelands,” she said. “The U.S. must remain the beacon of hope to people who feel forgotten and abandoned by the world and maintain its status as a leader of refugee policy for all nations to follow.”

Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief, a Christian humanitarian agency, said his team was “heartbroken” by the potential ripple effects the decision could have around the globe.

Trump won the support of a majority of white evangelicals and Catholics, in part because he pledged to protect religious freedom — the right of people to practice their religion and values free from discrimination and persecution. But the decision suggests there are limits to the administration’s interest in that goal.

On World Refugee Day, Pope Francis joined critics of the Trump administration's policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Video: Reuters)

The Washington Post reported that the administration also announced an executive order focused on giving local jurisdictions more power to reject refugees resettling across the country. The decision to reduce the number of refugees also comes as the administration is pursuing a wide-ranging ban on asylum seekers from Central America, a response to the humanitarian crisis created at the border. Here’s how the administration proposes allocating the refugees it will accept:

Under the plan for fiscal 2020, which begins Oct. 1, the administration would allocate 5,000 refugee slots to people fleeing for religious reasons, 4,000 for Iraqis who assisted the United States and fall under the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, and 1,500 for nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to senior administration officials. Another 7,500 slots would go to refugees not covered by these categories, including those referred to the program by U.S. embassies.

Some leaders of Christian organizations argue that the administration’s latest response to refugees brings into question Trump’s interest in protecting those fleeing religious persecution around the world.

But while there’s been criticism from some leaders of religious groups, the administration’s approach to refugees appears to reflect the views of many evangelical American Christians. While half of Americans say the United States has a responsibility to help resettle refugees, according to the Pew Research Center, only 25 percent of evangelicals feel the same way.

According to Pew: “The recent shift among Republicans has been driven by conservatives. In 2017, a third of conservative Republicans said the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees. But today, an even smaller share (19%) says this.”

When Trump won the White House, he did it in part because of how deeply his message resonated with conservative Christians — and part of that message was a harder approach to immigration. In reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States, he appears to be fulfilling a campaign promise to many of the conservative evangelicals who have supported him faithfully since his campaign launch.