Advocates condemn Trump’s ‘tragically low’ planned US refugee cap

The administration’s move to lower the ceiling of refugee acceptance is seen as part of continuing anti-immigration stance.

Trump refugees ban
People gather for a protest at the Arrivals Hall of San Francisco's SFO International Airport after people arriving from Muslim-majority countries were held at the border control in 2017 [File: Peter Dasilva/EPA]

Refugee advocacy organisations have condemned the Trump administration’s proposed drastic limits on refugee resettlement quotas, saying the move is an attack on legal migration, one of the founding tenets of the United States.

The Trump administration on Thursday recommended a target of resettling 15,000 refugees in the US for the fiscal year 2021, which began on October 1.

This number, put forward in a report to Congress, is the lowest in the history of the US refugee resettlement programme, which began in 1980 (PDF).

Such a low number does not reflect the global need for refugee resettlement, Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, told Al Jazeera, citing a “historically high” number of refugees and forcibly displaced people.

The United Nations Refugee Agency says roughly 80 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2019, with roughly 26 million global refugees, including Palestinians under the mandate of The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a UN agency that supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees.

“This is tragically low. It does not reflect the refugee crisis,” Varghese said.

Rather, it reflects is the Trump administration’s consistent  anti-immigration policies that buck decades of higher refugee acceptance in the US, Varghese added.

The historic average for annual refugee acceptance quotas is about 95,000, though the US often accepts slightly less than its target. Both quotas and total acceptance have greatly decreased under the Trump administration. Roughly 53,000 of the 110,000 ceiling were accepted in 2017 and more than 22,000 of the 45,000-person ceiling in 2018, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

“The US used to be a global leader, setting the tone for humanitarian protection,” Varghese said. “We’ve ceded that leadership.”

For its part, the Trump administration has championed its global role.

“We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so,” State Secretary Mike Pompeo told reporters in Rome on Wednesday night.

Increased delay

While Trump has submitted his report to Congress, he has yet to issue a presidential determination (PD) on refugee acceptance, which actually sets the goal. Refugees may not resettle in the US until Trump issues the PD.

Senior Director of Public Policy JC Hendrickson at the International Rescue Committee, a global relief organisation that helps with refugee resettlement in the US, told Al Jazeera the administration’s delay in issuing the PD will affect many seeking to start a new life.

“People who are excited about resettling in our country, and are at various stages in the process, are now … in the very difficult position of having to wait and see what this administration is going to do,” Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson said engaging in this type of policy impacts the type of asylum seeker the Trump administration considers a priority, including Iraqis who have helped US troops and those fleeing religious persecution.

“We know that once refugees come to America, they’re our neighbours. They become small business owners.”

He concluded: “When the PD is set, and its so historically low, these people are left wondering what to make of it. It’s very discouraging.”

Source: Al Jazeera