Though America is already combating serious issues on how to handle immigration and asylum, refugee admittance in the country is in no better shape under President Donald Trump. Adding to the maelstrom of policy changes coming out of Washington, the Trump administration is once again slashing the number of refugees admitted in the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday. So exactly how many refugees are admitted to the U.S. every year? Not a lot.
Speaking at the the State Department on Sept. 17, Pompeo said that the U.S. cap for refugee admissions in 2019 will be lowered to 30,000, a decrease of 33 percent from the 2018 cap of 45,000.
This would be the lowest refugee allowance in the United States' 40-year history of the program, per Politico. But that's just the cap on how many would be admitted, which is not the same as how many refugees actually enter the country. In fact, the U.S. has already hit a record low this year: only about 25,000 refugees have been admitted, per Politico, just around 55 percent of the 45,000 allowance. The new lowered refugee cap, per reports, is in part a result of the efforts of White House aide and immigration hawk Stephen Miller, whose uncle penned a scathing op-ed in August condemning his nephew's anti-immigrant agenda. The New York Times reported back in August that Miller had advocated for a cap as low as 15,000 for the previous year.
And the 2018 figure of actual refugees admitted is already a decrease from 2017, in which close to 30,000 refugees arrived on U.S. soil, according to Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org. During the same period in 2016, under President Barack Obama, State Department data show the U.S. had nearly 85,000 refugees arrivals.
And it's not that the number of refugees in the world magically decreased between the last two years. In fact, a June report from the UNHCR revealed that there was actually in increase in refugees from 2017 to 2016. According to the UNHCR, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world, including 25.4 million refugees, the highest number since World War II.
What do all these refugee admittance numbers look like on a more relatable scale? Consider the state level: Delaware in 2017 received only 16 refugees; California just 2,541 — that's .0064 percent of the Golden State's overall population.
The move has drawn widespread condemnation from various corners. "The United States is not only abdicating humanitarian leadership and responsibility-sharing in response to the worst global displacement and refugee crisis since World War II, but compromising critical strategic interests and reneging on commitments to allies and vulnerable populations," said the International Rescue Committee in a statement on Sept. 17.
"There is an urgent need for American leadership in managing the refugee crisis," tweeted former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. "Instead, @realDonaldTrump and his administration have declared war on refugees during the largest displacement crisis since Hitler."
Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey called the move "unethical, anti-immigrant, and ... un-American."
Murphy was joined by Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida, who called it a "cruel" decision.
As the National Immigration Law Center points out in a tweet below, the move is worrying to some — including U.S. military officials — who see the cuts to refugee admissions as harmful to national security and foreign relations interests, as refugee resettlement can help create goodwill and incentivize local aid in areas where U.S. personnel are stationed.
Pompeo stressed that the U.S. was choosing to "focus on the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country," adding that the refugee admittance number was but one of several measures of humanitarian assistance, and said that the U.S. was projected to process up to 280,000 cases for asylum seekers. (Although in recent years, the U.S. has only granted asylum to around 20,000 of those applicants, per CNN, so take that with a grain of salt.) And these programs aren't interchangeable. The U.S. asylum program is run by the Department of Homeland Security, while the refugee program is overseen by the Department of State, and each are supported by separate funding.
"The ultimate goal is the best possible care and safety of these people in need, and our approach is designed to achieve this noble objective," Pompeo said Monday. "We are and continue to be the most generous nation in the world."