While the fallout from the Trump administration’s family-separation policy continues, the White House is spreading another humanitarian crisis around the entire world by keeping other refugees from ever reaching American soil. The administration is currently considering slashing the quota of refugee admissions by another 40 percent, on top of the previous year’s reduction, which halved the number of annual admissions to 45,000. The potential cut in the refugee “ceiling” by more than three-quarters since 2016, resulting in a cap of 25,000, would mark a break from historical precedent and, for human-rights advocates around the world, a moral outrage.
With the worldwide number of refugees surging toward 30 million, refugee organizations and advocates say Trump’s border-security crackdown is eroding a keystone of the country’s humanitarian obligations.
“There are things that have been said and policies that have been implemented that have had the effect of dramatically reducing the number of refugees that come into this country,” says Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of public affairs at the faith-based service organization HIAS. Speaking for communities that have long hosted refugee populations, she adds, “We’re talking about a subset of refugees who for a long time had hope that they had a future in the United States. Some of them have family members here, so that adds this extra layer of pain…. We just have to look at the impact that this has had on refugees, on their family members here, on the faith communities here like ours.… There are thousands of people across the country in our communities who want to welcome refugees.”
Unlike asylum seekers, who have already made the journey to the United States, refugees generally undertake the process before departing. They often must prove through voluminous paperwork and multiple interviews that they have family ties or community-based sponsors already in the country. And the waiting list for resettlement is so long that it can take months or years for your name to come up. Early on in Trump’s first term, his so-called Muslim ban slammed the door most harshly against refugees from several predominantly Muslim countries, and though the order itself has been somewhat rolled back, its validation by the Supreme Court has effectively codified Trumpian Islamophobia.
Overall, refugee admissions are expected to dip to their lowest rate since since the current system began in 1980s. But even more drastic could be the impact of increasingly harsh vetting for new refugee applications; the “ceiling” on refugees is merely the potential limit, but in the meantime, there’s little stopping the immigration service from simply tightening the sieve when screening people for security concerns. At the start of 2018, there were already signs that humanitarian pathways were shrinking well below the cap—actual admissions had dwindled during the first 10 months of the fiscal year to fewer than 18,000.