Alan Gomez, USA Today, May 4, 2017
The number of refugees arriving in the United States has dropped sharply this year because of President Trump’s threats to bar their entry, even though his order for a total 120-day ban has been blocked twice by federal courts, a USA TODAY analysis of government figures shows.
The U.S. accepted 2,070 refugees in March, the lowest monthly total since 2013, according to State Department data. April ended with 3,316 refugees admitted, the second-lowest total since 2013.
President Barack Obama increased the number of refugees the U.S. accepts each year from 70,000 in fiscal year 2015, to 85,000 in 2016 and a proposed 110,000 in 2017. That compares to about 1 million Germany accepted in the past year. Trump, however, wants to lower that number to 50,000 because of concerns that terrorists might try to enter the U.S. posing as refugees.
Trump’s executive orders in January and March suspended the refugee program to improve the vetting procedures.
A federal judge in Seattle blocked Trump’s original order, which included a 90-day ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations. A federal judge in Hawaii blocked Trump’s second attempt to institute the travel ban just hours before it was set to go into effect on March 15. The administration is appealing those rulings that concluded the bans are unconstitutional.
The legal wrangling resulted in the refugee program being suspended for only seven days. But Trump’s order to reduce the annual cap for admissions to 50,000 remained in effect for nearly two months until blocked by the judge reviewing the revised ban in March. The State Department said in a statement that it “adjusted the pace of refugee arrivals” simply to respond to the lowered refugee cap.
The U.S. has admitted more than 42,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, which began Oct. 1 during the Obama administration. That means fewer than 8,000 spots would be available in the five remaining months of the fiscal year if Trump’s ceiling is enforced.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Services, which advocates for lower levels of immigration, said he is encouraged to see the administration slowing down the number of refugees entering the country. Krikorian said the U.S. should help refugees living abroad rather than reward a select few with admittance to the U.S.
“Do you feed one refugee caviar and the others get nothing, or do you feed all of them rice and beans?” he said. “Refugee resettlement is immoral. We do it only because it makes us feel good.”
No matter how the courts ultimately rule on Trump’s travel ban, the president has authority to drastically lower the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.
For now his plan to reduce the number is blocked by court rulings. But Anna Greene, senior director of policy and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee, which resettled about 1,000 refugees a month last year, said there’s no question Trump eventually will be able to set his own cap. That’s why, she says, the State Department is slowing down its refugee applications — it knows that fewer people will get in.