By Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the top U.S. government officials working on refugee issues on Tuesday announced her impending retirement, as the U.S. refugee program has come under continued pressure from the Trump administration.
Barbara Strack, a career official and chief of the Refugee Affairs Division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, did not specify when she will leave her post, but USCIS spokesman R. Carter Langston said it would be in January.
In a statement provided by Langston, Strack said she was retiring because, given her birthday is on Tuesday, she had reached one of the benchmarks for federal retirement.
"It's something I've been planning towards for a long time," Strack said. "I look forward to having more time for volunteer work, classes, and travel, but I will deeply miss the colleagues and friendships that I'm leaving behind, and the important mission of refugee resettlement."
It was unclear immediately who would replace her.
"USCIS is grateful to Barbara Strack for her 26 years of distinguished federal service," Langston said.
The Refugee Affairs Division, which Strack oversees, includes dozens of officers charged with interviewing refugees abroad for resettlement in the United States.
Strack discussed her work at USCIS at a career talk with University of Michigan law students in 2011.
"Every day, I get to work on a mission I believe in," Strack said, according to an article on the law school's website. "I think I have the best job at the Department of Homeland Security."
In its first year, the Trump administration has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country and put in place new vetting and security requirements that have created an additional barrier. Last year, the administration said it planned to divert some refugee officers to instead interview asylum applicants already in the United States, in an effort to cut down on a burgeoning backlog of asylum cases.
Administration officials cited the asylum backlog as one reason it was necessary to cut the 2017 refugee admissions cap to 45,000, the lowest level since the modern U.S. refugee program was established in 1980.
Opponents of refugee resettlement say it raises national security risks to the United States and is expensive. Advocates say refugees are vetted thoroughly and end up being a boon to their new communities.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by David Gregorio)