Yes, it could have been worse. But make no mistake: The latest change in federal refugee policy is yet another malicious act by the Trump administration against some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Last week the administration slashed the number of international refugees who will be admitted to the United States to only 18,000. That’s a historic low — even as the global refugee crisis soars — and puts the United States well behind other countries.
The fact that it wasn’t zero — as some administration officials reportedly wanted — came as a sort of relief, but hardly makes up for the big picture.
The fact is that the cut in refugee admissions is just the latest attempt to decimate the longstanding American tradition of welcoming the world’s most desperate. By admitting so few refugees, the United States is now shirking the international responsibilities it so often urges other countries to shoulder, and betraying its own values.
Since the Refugee Act was enacted in 1980, more than 3 million refugees have been resettled in the United States, according to the International Rescue Committee. The refugee ceiling has been set, on average, at 95,000. These are men, women, and children who have been victims of rape, torture, terror, religious or political oppression, and other forms of persecution. According to the UNHCR, the United Nation’s refugee agency, there are roughly 26 million refugees worldwide, the highest number ever recorded, including more than 5 million fleeing a brutal war in Syria.
Yet for the last three years, President Trump has systematically conducted a widespread assault against folks — primarily from underdeveloped nations — seeking to migrate to the United States: asylum seekers, legal immigrants, and now refugees. Unlike in every other immigration process, someone who’s seeking to obtain refugee status and resettle in the United States must apply overseas and follow established international norms. The process is not easy and can take many years, since it involves an exhaustive amount of vetting.
Last year Canada, with a population a tenth the size of the United States, still managed to resettle more refugees — 28,000 compared with 23,000 in the United States. On a per capita basis, the United States settles fewer refugees than Australia, Sweden, and Norway, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. The administration justifies the cut by pointing to the growing number of asylum seekers who want entry to the United States at the southern border, which officials say shows the country is already meeting its humanitarian responsibilities.
Along with the cut, the Trump administration also announced a new requirement that state and local governments consent to resettle most refugees in their jurisdictions. Immigration advocates have called the rule yet another unnecessary hindrance in the process. It’s unclear at this point how that rule would work, since any legally admitted refugee is free to travel anywhere within the United States once they arrive in the country. Some advocates have argued that it could also lead to disagreements between cities and states — conceivably, a governor could oppose refugee resettlement in his or her state, while a local mayor in that same state could welcome it — and that some states might end up with no refugees at all. Others have dismissed the new requirement’s potential impact precisely because the new refugee cap is so low.
One thing is clear: Trump and Stephen Miller, the White House adviser whose prints are all over this new policy, remain bent on closing America’s door — and its heart. The human toll keeps adding up, and closing our doors to the world’s most downtrodden is among the most vicious directives to come from this administration yet.