Pence urges US diplomats to promote legal immigration

The remarks by US Vice President Mike Pence, pictured (left) in 2018 with President DOnald Trump, amounted to a tacit recognition of the effect on the US image of Trump's tough talk on unauthorized immigrants (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday urged US diplomats to emphasize that the United States still welcomes legal immigrants, amid unrelenting pressure from President Donald Trump to seal off Mexico with a wall.

"I urge you to assure our allies this administration will continue to stand for legal immigration, even while we address the humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border," Pence told 180 US ambassadors and chiefs of mission abroad who were back at the State Department for an annual meeting.

"The United States supports legal immigration. In fact, we celebrate it. And America has a proud record of support for refugees," he said.

Pence's remarks amount to a tacit recognition of the effect on the US image of Trump's tough talk on unauthorized immigrants, whom the US leader accuses of spreading crime, despite statistics that immigrants are less likely to commit offenses than native-born Americans.

The US government has been shut down for nearly a month as Trump demands that Congress provide $5.7 billion to construct a border wall, a key promise from his presidential campaign.

Despite Pence's remarks, the Trump administration has cut down on admission of refugees.

The United States accepted 22,491 refugees in the year through September, according to State Department figures, below the available cap of 45,000 and the lowest level in 40 years, with particular reductions on people from the Middle East.

The Trump administration is lowering the cap further for the current fiscal year to 30,000.

The United States nonetheless welcomes more refugees than any other country, although others including Canada and Australia accept more on a per capita basis.

Legal immigration is subject to laws by Congress, although lawyers say that authorities have ramped up scrutiny of applications since Trump took office.

The United States welcomed 1.1 million new permanent residents in the 2017 fiscal year, the last for which statistics are available, a figure that stayed steady despite Trump's inauguration during the period.