WASHINGTON (RNS)—The Trump administration’s announcement that it once again will slash refugee admissions to the United States to unprecedented lows was met with outcry by refugee resettlement groups, many of them faith-based.
The State Department announced Sept. 26 that President Trump set the number of refugees the United States will accept over the next year at 18,000.
That’s the lowest number of admissions a president has set since the refugee resettlement program started in the 1980s. And it comes as the country expects to receive more than 368,000 new refugee and asylum claims in its next fiscal year, which starts in October, according to the State Department.
John L. McCullough, president and chief executive officer of Church World Service, one of the nine agencies authorized to resettle refugees in the United States, called the president’s declaration “nothing short of a refugee ban.”
“With one final blow, the Trump administration has snuffed out Lady Liberty’s torch and ended our nation’s legacy of compassion and welcome. The darkness of this day will extend for years, if not decades, to come,” McCullough said in a written statement.
By the numbers
This past year, Trump set the refugee ceiling at 30,000 people. His first year in office, it was 45,000.
Both also were historic lows at the time, and the total number of refugees admitted did not reach those ceilings.
According to the Pew Research Center, the United States had admitted 28,100 refugees by the end of August 2019 and 22,500 during the previous fiscal year.
“Overall, the U.S. has admitted about 74,200 refugees so far under the Trump administration” from Jan. 20, 2017, to Aug. 31, 2019, according to a recent Pew report. “By comparison, the U.S. admitted nearly 85,000 refugees in fiscal 2016 alone, the last full fiscal year of the Obama administration.”
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Refugee resettlement agencies have pointed out the refugee ceiling historically has averaged 95,000 people a year, and Catholic Charities, which resettles refugees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement urging the program to “return to consistent refugee numbers rather than focus primarily on its use for partisan-based purposes.”
‘Refugee resettlement saves lives’
Mark Hetfield, president and chief executive officer of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which also resettles refugees, said Trump was “playing to fear rather than showing strength.”
“Refugee resettlement saves lives,” Hetfield said in a written statement.
“The U.S. commitment to refugee resettlement has a global effect, setting an example for the world, in a moment when international leadership is sorely needed,” he said. “Refugee resettlement assures that at least some of those forced to flee their homes have a safe and legal pathway to refuge in the United States.”
Reducing the number of admissions wasn’t the only action the administration took impacting the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Trump also signed an executive order requiring the written consent of state and local governments before a refugee may be resettled there.
“By giving a veto to states and municipalities on where refugees are resettled, many refugees who have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. will be unable to be resettled in the same communities as family members already in the U.S.,” World Relief CEO Tim Breene said in a written statement.
“Unless the federal government intends to erect walls or checkpoints between cities, any refugee will still be free to move to any community within the U.S., but in doing so they may not have the support of a resettlement agency that provides vital integration support. This policy undermines families and is counter-effective toward the goal of promoting economic self-sufficiency,” he wrote.
Since the start of fiscal year 2017, the country has lost one-third of its capacity to welcome and resettle refugees as the decline in refugee admissions has decimated the agencies authorized to resettle refugees.
Six of those nine agencies are faith-based. They also include Episcopal Migration Ministries and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The drop in admissions also means the United States has admitted fewer Christian refugees from the countries where Christians are most persecuted, despite the Trump administration’s pledge to help persecuted Christians overseas.