President Donald Trump looks out on a world in chaos, and rather than beckon the sufferers forward, he says no.
That is the message of the refugee cap the administration announced last week — slashed to 18,000 for the fiscal year, the lowest level in decades.
America’s refugee program has often been a bipartisan point of pride. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama had at times sought much higher refugee targets. Even after 9/11 President George W. Bush’s administration let in over 50,000 refugees for multiple years. Some 85,000 refugees arrived in 2016, Obama’s last full fiscal year. Trump has steadily reduced that number.
His ill-advised reduction comes at a time when the United Nation’s refugee agency counts more than 20 million refugees worldwide.
Trump’s cap is even tighter than it sounds: Some 9,000 slots are prioritized for religious refugees and Iraqis who assisted U.S. national security. A slim band of 1,500 spots is for nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose chaos is causing tens of thousands of people to flee to the U.S. border. The remaining category of 7,500 is for the rest of the world.
The administration has cited the high number of people seeking asylum and security concerns among the reasons for the lower cap. It would be nearly impossible for America to take everyone. But the nation’s stature as a beacon is diminished: Canada surpassed the United States in refugee resettlement in 2018 by some 5,000 refugees.
Security concerns are legitimate, but capricious decision-making is not. Refugees apply from outside the country and are subject to rigorous vetting by multiple agencies, including interviews and screening.
The lower cap is part of a concerted effort by the Trump administration to change the implementation and character of U.S. immigration.
Trump also has tried to make life more difficult for asylum-seekers trying to make their way here. A particularly ugly executive order last week would help local governments block resettlements.
None of it is good, and none of it honors the way so many American families sought their immigrant fortune here.