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Trump Sets Refugee Cap at a Historic Low

Stephanie Darrell

Trump Sets Refugee Cap at a Historic Low

Immigration Law
| 5 min
5 Min

Since becoming President in 2017, Donald Trump and his administration have radically reduced the annual refugee cap year after year. From a cap of 110,000 people during President Obama's last year in office to 15,000 for the new fiscal year 2021, the number of refugees who may enter the United States is now at a historic low.  

Throughout his presidency, Trump has continually portrayed refugees as a threat to national security and a burden to the American economy. Consequently, the Trump administration has been reducing the number of refugees that may enter the U.S. every year. The proposed 2021 15,000-person cap has come under heavy criticism from Democrats and humanitarian organizations.

Refugee advocacy and resettlement groups have pointed out that the new refugee admittance cap is only a fraction of the number of refugees that the country can accommodate in a year. The Obama administration successfully resettled 15,000 refugees every two months during its final year in office. According to humanitarian organizations, Trump's administration does not have an excuse for continually reducing the annual refugee cap. 

According to the State Department, the reduction in the annual refugee cap is due to the administration prioritizing the "safety and wellbeing of Americans" during the current pandemic. The Department plans to reserve the 15,000 refugee spots for people fleeing religious persecution, Iraqis who have helped U.S. forces, and refugees from countries such as Honduras, Venezuela, Guatemala, Cuba, and Hong Kong. 

Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the White House is supposed to consult Congress before setting the annual refugee admittance cap for each fiscal year. However, the Trump administration has not consulted Congress in each of the past four years they have been in office. Critics have cited the lack of consultation as evidence for Trump’s deep hostility towards refugees. Essentially, in his vilification campaign towards refugees, Trump is even willing to break the law.

For the fiscal year 2020, the administration had set the refugee admittance cap at 18,000. With the coronavirus limiting refugee arrivals, less than 12,000 refugees had entered America by the end of the fiscal year 2020. With the new admittance cap, humanitarian and religious organizations are worried that the government's goal is to eliminate resettlement in America.

The biggest worry among Refugee Advocacy groups is that the radical reduction of the refugee admittance cap by the Trump administration is based on xenophobic political reasoning, which might be detrimental to refugees already in America. In addition to criticizing the refugee program, President Trump has repeatedly denounced refugees in his campaign rallies. 

America is historically known as a haven for refugees and asylum seekers. However, as evidenced by its anti-immigration laws and policies, Trump's administration has abandoned that longstanding role. As critics have observed, Donald Trump is the first U.S. president for more than half a century to portray refugees as a threat and a burden to Americans.

With an average refugee cap of 95,000 per year under recent Democratic and Republican presidents, Trump numbers are alarming. Even Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate and Trump's challenger in November elections, has promised to increase the annual refugee cap to 125,000 for his first year in office if elected. 

President Trump has not only vilified refugees in general but has, in the past, launched personal attacks on politicians such as Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman who resettled in the U.S. after arriving from Somalia as a refugee. Trump's attacks on Miss Omar are significant, considering they are based on her former refugee status. 

As civil rights groups have observed, despite the thorough screening that the government subjects refugees to, the current administration has continually portrayed them as a threat to Americans. Despite refugees doing everything the government asks of them, Trump and his administration have repeatedly shown hostility towards them. Therefore, it is no surprise that the President has continually lowered the annual refugee cap year after year.


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