Trump Administration Proposes Historically Low Refugee Limit


The Trump administration has capped the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States, announcing on Thursday that it would accept a maximum of 18,000 refugees during the 2020 fiscal year, down from the current limit of 30,000 and a fraction of the 85,000 refugees President Obama admitted during his final year in office. This decision marks the third consecutive year that the administration has slashed the refugee program, and is the lowest number admitted since the Refugee Act was signed into law in 1980. The President also issued an executive order aimed at allowing State and local governments the option to turn refugees away if they do not feel they have the resources and capacities to admit them.

Jennifer Sime, a senior vice president at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), stated that “this measure completely ignores the welcome that communities have provided to refugees, as well as the important contributions resettled refugees have made to these communities all across the country.” David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC said, “this is a very sad day for America … this decision represents further damage to America’s leadership on protecting the most vulnerable people around the world.”

The 18,000-refugee limit includes slots that have already been allocated. According to The New York Times, 4,000 refugee slots will be reserved for Iraqis who worked with the United States military, 1,500 for refugees from Central America, and 5,000 for those persecuted for their religion. The remaining 7,500 slots are for those seeking family unification and have been cleared for resettlement, thus eliminating opportunities for those fleeing war and persecution and greatly minimizing the United States’ ability to aid vulnerable populations throughout the world.

In the past, the U.S.’s refugee program was the strongest in the world, taking in more refugees than any other nation. A Pew Research analysis found that the number of refugees admitted by the U.S. would typically rise and fall in relation to the global refugee population. For example, when the global number of refugees peaked in 1992 at 17.8 million, the number of refugees resettled by the U.S. also increased, reaching a high of about 132,000 that year. In the mid-2000s, as the number of displaced people worldwide fell to less than 10 million, the number of refugees entering the U.S. also decreased. Since President Trump took office, however, the number of refugees annually resettled by the U.S. has not consistently grown with a worldwide refugee population that has expanded by nearly 50 percent since 2013.

The administration has stated that the decision to cap the number of refugees was made so it could focus on processing asylum seekers at the southern border and divert resources to address a backlog of asylum cases that has reached nearly one million. “The current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large numbers of refugees,” the State Department stated. Critics note that the situation at the southern border should not be an excuse to abandon potential refugees from around the world and point out that the backlog in the immigration courts is a result of cases needing to be evaluated even though most refugees are screened and vetted before they arrive in the United States.

Most of the migrants crossing the southern border are fleeing gang violence and persecution in Central America, raising the question of whether a mere 1,500 slots allocated for the region will be sufficient. The 18,000-refugee limit will undoubtedly ensure that people in need of safety across the globe will be stuck in dangerous conditions and remain unsettled despite the communities across the United States that are ready to welcome them. This decision is part of the Trump administration’s broader efforts to reduce the number of immigrants, both legal and illegal, entering the country. However, many Democratic presidential candidates, such as Cory Booker and Julian Castro, have proposed elevating the refugee cap back to pre-Trump levels as part of their immigration plans.