President Donald Trump’s decision to cut the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. hardly comes as a surprise. Even by this administration’s standards, however, the policy just announced is impressive in its heartlessness, cynicism and dishonesty.
The current cap of 45,000 refugees a year is already the lowest since Congress created the refugee resettlement program in 1980, when the U.S. admitted a record 207,116 refugees under President Ronald Reagan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lowered it to just 30,000 for the coming fiscal year. Because of onerous vetting procedures, the number actually admitted will be fewer still. (Despite the cap of 45,000, the U.S. is on pace to admit and resettle 21,000 refugees this year, down from 85,000 in 2016.)
The U.S. is closing its doors as the global ranks of the dispossessed reach historic highs. The U.N. estimates that 25.4 million people have been displaced from their home countries due to war and persecution. Of that number, 1.4 million are thought to need urgent resettlement in other countries next year, a 17 percent increase over 2018.
Supporters of Trump’s refugee clampdown point out that despite the recent drop, the U.S. still resettles more refugees than any other country. That’s true. Until recently, in fact, it resettled more than the rest of the world put together. So yes, other countries should be doing much more. But it’s right that the world’s richest economy should set the example it did until recently — using its generosity to push other countries to open their doors, while advancing its other foreign-policy goals.
Pompeo also said the U.S. immigration system can’t process more refugees due to the “daunting operational reality” of working through 800,000 existing requests for asylum. That’s especially misleading: Refugee applicants are vetted overseas, separately from applicants for asylum, who are already in the country or at the border. Pompeo adds the refugee program should be considered in the wider “context” of overall humanitarian spending. That seems reasonable — except that the White House has also proposed cutting foreign aid by 30 percent.
Pompeo sinks to pure alarmism when he talks about the threat refugees pose to the public. History suggests that the threat is essentially zero: Since 1980, no American has been killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee.
The U.S.’s traditional commitment to aiding and resettling refugees is something to celebrate, not repudiate. The administration should be ashamed — and Congress should be too, if it consents to let this happen. The Editors, Bloomberg