WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump has curtailed refugee admissions for fiscal year 2018 to 45,000. This is a 47 percent decrease from the 85,000 refugees that former president Barack Obama admitted in fiscal year 2016. Obama had raised the ceiling to 110,000 before leaving office, but the Trump administration reduced admissions to about 54,000 in fiscal year 2017.
The 45,000 refugee admissions are split regionally: 19,000 from Africa, 17,000 from the Near East and South Asia, 5,000 from East Asia, 2,000 from Europe and Central Asia, and 1,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The new ceiling is the lowest since right after 9/11, when an average of 27,000 refugees per year were admitted in the two years following 9/11.
Officials cited security as the chief reason for the drop. However, a substantial backlog in asylum cases in the country is also a contributor, officials said on a Sept. 27 call with reporters.
“We have hundreds of thousands of individuals who are making these [asylum] requests domestically, and we need to be able to devote resources to begin processing those cases,” an official said.
The official said that having such a glut can attract “frivolous asylum applications from people who will continue to sit in a backlog and receive employment authorization.”
It currently takes 18 months to two years on average to process an asylum case.
“We really need to be able to devote more resources on the asylum side,” the official said.
The United States defines a refugee as “an alien outside the United States who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.” A refugee applies for admission from outside the United States. An asylum-seeker has to meet the same criteria, but must apply for asylum within one year of entering the United States.
The U.S. Department of State administers the refugee program and uses it as both a foreign policy tool and a humanitarian tool.
Refugees are the most highly-vetted immigrant coming to the United States, but there are vulnerabilities in the program, according to Lawrence Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for the State Department, on Sept. 20. “And we need to try to close those vulnerabilities. So the vetting review is really key.”
The FBI has reported that approximately 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations, according to the DHS.
Most of the U.S. taxpayer money slated for refugee aid goes toward stabilizing refugees in the country they fled to until it is safe for them to return to their home country. This is the preferred (and cheaper) option, according to the State Department and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Only 31 countries accept refugees, and the total number resettled globally is paltry compared to the estimated 17.5 million refugees identified by UNHCR. Last year, the United Nations set a goal of resettling 10 percent of the total number of refugees; however, even with increased intake from Europe, only 5 percent to 8 percent was reached, according to Larry Yungk, senior resettlement officer for UNHCR.
“Resettlement is not the option for most refugees—99.5 percent of refugees will not be resettled,” Yungk said on Sept. 20.
The United States remains the single largest donor to the Syria response, having provided nearly $7.4 billion since the beginning of the crisis to help provide food, medical care, shelter, protection, education, and other necessities to those in the region, according to a U.S. official.
“We are also the largest donor to the humanitarian response for displaced Iraqis, having provided nearly $1.7 billion since the start of fiscal year 2014,” the official said.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 27 called “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”
Aside from a 90-day hold on visas from some terror-prone nations, Trump put a temporary hold on all refugee intake for 120 days until the screening and vetting process could be audited and updated as necessary.
The beginning of the 120-day pause was delayed due to a court injunction, and it will now lapse on Oct. 24.