Refugee advocates blasted President Donald Trump on Monday over the declining numbers of people coming to America from United Nations-run camps in the Middle East and elsewhere, arguing he has “slammed the door” on the world’s most vulnerable.
Almost halfway through the fiscal year, State Department records show the United States has taken in only a little more than 10,000 refugees. That is well below the 45,000 target President Trump set for all of fiscal year 2018.
“We face yet more evidence that those commitments are in grave danger,” Refugee Council USA Director Mary Giovagnoli told reporters on a conference call. She and other advocates argue that the target itself is unacceptably low — far below the caps set in the final years of President Barack Obama’s White House tenure.
“Even that goal, though, resetting 45,000 refugees, is pathetically low, given U.S. capacity, global needs and the history of U.S. leadership in this area,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First.
The difference is stark regarding refugee admissions from some of the biggest global hotspots. Acer noted, for instance, that since Oct. 1, 2017, America has admitted only 42 refugees from war-torn Syria and 96 from Iraq through February.
“The damage caused by this feeble U.S. resettlement effort goes well beyond the lives of the impacted refugee families who are waiting [for] U.S. resettlement and the many Americans who are awaiting their arrival.”
“President Trump has essentially slammed the door on the resettlement of some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugee families,” Acer said on the conference call. “The damage caused by this feeble U.S. resettlement effort goes well beyond the lives of the impacted refugee families who are waiting [for] U.S. resettlement and the many Americans who are awaiting their arrival.”
Acer said it also hurts U.S. foreign policy and destabilizes U.S. allies that have been overwhelmed by refugees.
To longtime critics of America’s refugee program, however, the declining numbers are a cause for celebration.
No need ‘to feel guilty.’ Clare Lopez, vice president for research and analysis at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy (CSP), told LifeZette that a slowdown is warranted as part of Trump’s promise to implement “extreme vetting” of would-be refugees.
“I don’t think we need to feel guilty about anything,” she said.
Nayla Rush, a senior researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said the slowdown in refugees was to be expected during Trump’s first full fiscal year — as was the reaction to it from advocacy organizations.
“Of course, they’re going to complain,” she told LifeZette. “Remember, they’re doing everything differently now … When you’re reassessing the whole program, it’s good to take time and pause.”
The refugee program has been controversial since Obama announced in 2015 that he was raising the overall cap on refugees and would move aggressively to increase the number coming from Syria. Critics countered there was no way to conduct proper background checks on Syrians when their government was hostile to the United States and barely functioning after years of a brutal civil war.
America resettled 105 Syrians in fiscal year 2014. That number jumped to 1,682 in fiscal year 2015 and 12,587 the following year before tumbling once Trump became president. Trump tried to freeze the refugee program his first year in office, but a federal judge blocked it from taking action.
Even without a formal freeze, however, Trump has succeeded in putting the brakes on resettlements. The last time America came close to admitting as few refugees as the current pace suggests was in fiscal year 2003. That year, 28,403 refugees resettled in America.
Acer said Trump’s policy has put enormous pressure on Jordan, a U.S. ally in the Middle East that hosts some 650,000 registered refugees and an estimated 72,000 more who are unregistered. In addition, she added, Trump’s policy makes it harder for the United States to make the case that other countries should do more.
“We have initiated a race to the bottom,” she said.
Talking points for America’s enemies? Michael Breen, president and CEO of the Truman Center, told reporters that taking only a small number of refugees hurts U.S. foreign policy.
“The simple reason for that is people watch what we do, watch what we do around the world,” said Breen, whose organization advocates for an American leadership role in shaping global affairs. “Allies watch … Our enemies also watch what we do, and we are providing them with talking points, unfortunately.”
Rush of CIS disagreed, saying, “I don’t think accepting more refugees is good security policy, to be honest.”
Mathew Soerens, director of church mobilization at World Relief, said the slowdown has also negatively affected private organizations like his that contract with the federal government to help transition refugees into communities across the country. His said his organization, for instance, has closed several offices.
Trump’s policies will erode the infrastructure necessary to accommodate future increases in refugee admissions, Soerens said.
“That’s not a switch we can just turn back on,” he said.
But Lopez of CSP said the current system is unfair. “It completely bypasses the states,” she said. “It bypasses the local jurisdictions that have no say-so.”
Lopez also argued that resettlement is an extreme and costly solution. She pointed to a CIS study indicating that America could help 12 Middle Eastern refugees in their region for the cost of relocating one to America.
Soerens pointed to a University of Notre Dame study last year indicating that refugees become a net economic benefit after 20 years in the United States. He said the need for greater resources abroad should not halt resettlements.
“In my view, the solution has to be ‘both-and,'” he said.