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Making Sense of the Decline in U.S. Refugee Admissions

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Apr 13, 2018

Blog Post

Gabe Cahn, HIAS.org

A view of the Statue of Liberty, August 8, 2017. Refugee admissions to the United States continue to dwindle, down more than 70 percent from last year.

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Six and half months into the federal fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2017, only 11,000 refugees have been resettled by the United States—compared to over 40,000 at the same point last year.

Just 44 Syrians, five Yezidis, and 52 Sudanese refugees have found safety on America’s shores during this span. 

Last year at this time, 46 percent of refugees admitted to the U.S. were Muslim. So far this year: 16%.

And Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) arrivals for Iraqis and Afghans who worked for U.S. forces in their home countries have also declined by 28%.

Across the board, the refugee policies set in motion by this administration, from the record low admissions ceiling of 45,000 to the multiple attempts to ban certain nationalities, are having an undeniable impact.

And while the numbers speak for themselves, they alone do not tell the full story of who is bearing the brunt of the decisions coming from Washington. 

For nearly 40 years, America has distinguished itself on the international stage and advanced its foreign policy interests by providing safe haven to those who need it most when they need it most, offering the promise of a new life in freedom without the fear of persecution.    

When we talk about the refugees who are resettled to the U.S., we’re talking about survivors of torture and sexual and gender based violence, individuals facing medical emergencies, people who cannot live safely in refugee camps due their sexual orientation, and families desperately trying to reunite. 

We’re also talking about incredibly resilient individuals who want nothing more than the chance to successfully integrate and thrive in American society. 

just-released study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute found that contrary to common misconceptions swirling around refugee resettlement, “research shows that refugees do contribute to the U.S. workforce and society.”

The author of the study, Hamutal Bernstein, writes that: 

After a period of adjustment after arrival, refugees integrate on economic, linguistic, and civic measures. On average, they participate in the labor force at high rates, their earnings rise, and their use of public benefits declines. Their English language skills improve, and those arriving during their youth have strong educational attainment. Set on a fast track to obtain green cards and citizenship compared with other immigrants, most become U.S. citizens, and many own homes and businesses. 

Thus, the ongoing dismantlement of the U.S. refugee resettlement program is not only devastating for the people fleeing for their lives who can no longer come here, but for the American communities prepared to welcome them once they arrive.