SAN DIEGO (AP) — Refugee advocates, including faith-based groups that President Donald Trump is courting for his re-election, called on Congress Thursday to halt his administration’s plans to slash the limit on refugees allowed into the U.S. to a record low, saying it goes against America’s values.

In a notice sent to Congress late Wednesday, just 34 minutes before a statutory deadline to do so, the government unveiled its proposal to reduce the number of refugees permitted to enter in the fiscal year that started on Thursday to 15,000.

The number is 3,000 less than the already historically low ceiling of 18,000 Trump set for the last fiscal year that ended on Wednesday.

The administration's plan was released as Trump vilified refugees as an unwanted burden for the country at a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota. He accused his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, of wanting to flood that state with foreigners.

“Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp, and he said that — overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating hospitals. You know that. It’s already there. It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to your state,” Trump told supporters.

Since taking office, Trump has cut the number of refugees allowed into the country by more than 80%, reflecting his broader efforts to drastically reduce both legal and illegal immigration.

The plans to further close the door on refugees angered faith-based organizations as the president seeks to energize Christian social conservatives in key states to help him win a second term.

Rev. John L. McCullough, head of the Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in the United States, described the reduction of refugee admissions as immoral and urged Congress to step in, though the president ultimately makes the decision on refugees allowed in under the 1980 Refugee Act. Congress can recommend changes or seek to influence the decision through budgeting, but is largely powerless to alter the determination.

“The proposed refugee resettlement number of 15,000, a more than 80% cut over historic norms, is unacceptable. Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger," McCullogouh said in a statement.

He added: “But for the past three years, President Trump and his administration have strayed so far from these basic principles in the name of their cruel, racist and partisan goals that the life-saving refugee resettlement program is a shadow of what it once was."

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter, a global Christian aid agency, said the president has reneged on his promise to protect persecuted Christians in the world.

“Instead, we’ve seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90% in some cases over the last four years," he said in a statement. “This is unconscionable."

The 18,000 cap was already the lowest in the history of the program. Then Trump froze refugee admissions in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing a need to protect U.S. jobs amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

The U.S. allowed in just over 10,800 refugees during the last fiscal year — a little more than half of the 18,000 cap set by Trump for 2020 — before the State Department suspended the program because of the coronavirus.

Refugee advocates have said that the Trump administration is dismantling a program that has long enjoyed bipartisan support and has been considered a model for protecting the world’s most vulnerable people.

Scores of resettlement offices have closed because of the drop in federal funding that is based on the number of refugees arriving in the U.S.

And the damage is reverberating beyond American borders as other countries close their doors to refugees while refugee numbers swell because of war, famine and persecution.

“We’re talking about tens of millions of desperate families with no place to go and having no hope for protection in the near term,” said Krish Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a federally funded agency charged with resettling refugees in the U.S.

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Lee reported from Washington.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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