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Number of Refugees Cut for Third Straight Year

Oct 04, 2019

Blog Post

Sharon Samber, HIAS.org

President Donald Trump discussed asylum issues in the Oval Office of the White House on July 26, 2019, in Washington, DC.

(Brendan Smialowski /AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration last week announced a proposed refugee resettlement ceiling of 18,000 for Fiscal Year 2020, a 40% cut  from last year’s number amidst the largest global refugee crisis in recorded history.

Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, said in a statement: “With the stroke of a pen, President Trump plans to once again abdicate American leadership, by playing to fear rather than showing strength. Refugee resettlement saves lives. 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.”

HIAS is asking people to contact their members of Congress to speak out to help refugees. Last year, the president set the number at 30,000, which was then the lowest number in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the maximum number of refugees resettled in the United States each year is decided by the president in consultation with Congress (the consultations for fiscal year 2020 have not yet taken place). The number remains unofficial until the consultations take place─when the number is announced it is called the Presidential Determination─but 18,000 is essentially what to expect. Historically, the annual refugee admissions ceiling has averaged 95,000 per year.

The cuts could have long-standing consequences for the U.S. refugee system, and they continue the trend that began when President Trump took office and immediately took steps to reduce the number of refugee arrivals coming into the country.

The administration argues that the drastic reduction of the refugee program is required because of the increase in the number of asylum seekers trying to enter the U.S. at the southern border. 

“The current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large number [sic] of refugees,” the administration said in a statement. “Prioritizing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in our country is simply a matter of fairness and common sense.”

While the refugee admissions number was not cut to zero, a new executive order empowers governors and mayors to cut their local admissions number to zero in their states and towns. President Trump issued the order that, for the first time, gives states and municipalities the authority to deny the resettlement of refugees in their communities.

Allowing localities to opt out of accepting refugees amounts to an abdication of federal authority, according to Hetfield. He said in a statement that the order was in effect a state-by-state, city-by-city refugee ban. “Is this the kind of America we want to live in? Where local towns can put up signs that say ‘No Refugees Allowed’ and the federal government will back that? Welcoming refugees is what we do as Americans, as Jews, as HIAS,” Hetfield said. 

Only a small percentage of the world’s refugees are candidates for resettlement, typically those with specific safety, medical, or other concerns that cannot be addressed in countries to which they have fled and cannot return to their home countries, making resettlement to a third country their only option. Refugees are among the most thoroughly vetted individuals allowed into the United States.

A recent Refugee Council USA report shows how cuts to resettlement have already left refugees in dangerous situations; kept refugee families separated across continents; negatively affected U.S. communities that rely on refugees to help stimulate their local economies; endangered the wartime allies of American soldiers in combat zone; and decimated humanitarian infrastructures to aid refugees in their transition to new lives in the U.S.

There are nearly 26 million refugees worldwide, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.