US President Donald Trump has dramatically cut the number of refugees allowed into the United States to 18,000 in the current fiscal year.
The cut in the number of refugee admissions is "justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest," a memorandum signed by Trump and distributed by the White House press office late on Friday (local time) said.Trump slashes US refugee quota
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The policy caps the number who can be admitted from Iraq at 4000 and the number admitted from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras at 1500.
The remaining 12,500 are for people who fear persecution for their religious beliefs or political activities or who are referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program.
The number is the lowest level since the introduction of the US refugee program in 1980. The previous limit for the last fiscal year was 30,000.
"At the core of the Trump Administration's foreign policy is a commitment to make decisions based on reality, not wishes, and to drive optimal outcomes based on concrete facts," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Saturday.
"Addressing the core problems that drive refugees away from their homes helps more people more rapidly than resettling them in the United States," he added.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama's last full year in office, about 85,000 refugees were allowed into the US.
Trump lowered the limit in 2017, his first in office, and about 53,000 refugees were let in, according to a report issued in March by the Department of Homeland Security.
The US government declared its plan to lower the number in late September, saying the new ceiling will allow the government to focus on addressing issues at the southern border, which has been dubbed a "crisis".
In his statement, Pompeo said that the "burden" on the immigration system, aggravated by the situation on the southern border, "must be alleviated before we can again resettle large numbers of refugees."
The UN Refugee Agency said it was "troubled" by the White House's move.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Oregon has temporarily blocked a Trump administration proclamation that would have required prospective immigrants to prove they would have US health insurance within 30 days of their arrival or enough money to pay for "reasonably foreseeable medical costs".
Judge Michael Simon in US District Court in Portland, Oregon, granted a 28-day temporary restraining order that prevents the rule from taking effect on November 3. The legal challenge against it will continue.
Seven US citizens and an advocacy organisation filed a lawsuit to block the rule, arguing it "rewrites our immigration and healthcare laws by Presidential fiat" and could bar hundreds of thousands of prospective immigrants.
The proclamation is blocked while the legal challenge against it continues.