Despite President Donald Trump’s stance, the Pew Research Center has reported a “most notable change” in American attitudes toward taking in refugees over the past three years or so. In a 2016 survey, 61 percent said that admitting refugees escaping war and violence was a “very or somewhat important goal.” In a survey report published on Pew’s website last November, that share had risen to 73 percent.
However, Trump’s illegal refugee ban has thrown the American refugee resettlement program into chaos. Refugees go through an exhaustive vetting process but these concerns are likely to surface again and again in a presidential election campaign during which Trump has already indicated that he will target refugees. Worse still, the Trump administration has announced it would set a refugee cap of 18,000 people for the fiscal year, and allow states to ban resettlement.
This is tantamount to destroying the program. In practice, not only will fewer people be able to enter the US than ever before, but these decisions will pull apart the infrastructure that supports refugees when they arrive in the US. Families will therefore struggle to stay together. Advocates are especially concerned about refugees who have been approved for travel to the US and may now have their journeys delayed or cancelled.
This is actually the United States becoming a bad actor when it comes to refugee protection – during a time when the world is facing the largest displacement crisis in history – the US is going to roll up its mat and go home.
Senior US officials say the cap was set so low because the administration is struggling to respond to the number of people seeking asylum at the southern border. In fact, the asylum program is distinct from the refugee program. The Department of Homeland Security, with the justice department, oversees asylum applications. The state department oversees refugee resettlement. Both work with other agencies, including each other. Put simply, the White House claim is a lie.
Into the argument, refugee resettlement is a slow process that involves the most intense scrutiny of any form of US immigration. On taking office, Donald Trump ordered a review of the vetting system, which the administration has since deemed secure. While the State Department usually specifies how many refugees can come from regions such as Africa and the Middle East, the White House has also some unusual distinctions.
The Trump regime has carved out 1,500 slots for people from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Last year, it admitted 502 from those countries, according to state figures. There are 5,000 slots reserved for people fleeing religious persecution, though it is not clear how that determination is made.
Reunification has also become more difficult because of the shrinking number of resettlement agency offices, which help refugees on things such as how to buy a home, find language courses or get a job. More than 100 offices have closed down under Trump’s pressure, according to Refugee Council USA, and there are too few people to process. More are expected to close.
When refugees flee their homes, family members often lose touch, putting their refugee applications on different timelines. If a mother and child have arrived in Texas, for instance, and it suddenly stops allowing refugees, reunification will be delayed as the family tries to travel to another state to file the father’s application. The same could be true if Texas simply has to shut down resettlement agencies because not enough people are coming in.
At any rate, many refugees have lost family members and may form close ties with uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents, but it is more difficult to get the government to prioritize reunification with such relatives. If parts of the country become islands for refugees, this will only get more complicated. All in all, the US is no longer a world leader in refugee resettlement. This is certainly not something the Trump administration is interested in upholding.