Is the Trump administration justified in accepting fewer refugees than in the past?

By Nayla Rush on January 20, 2020

CQ Researcher, January 2020.

Those outraged by lower refugee ceilings under the Trump administration are less mindful of its efforts to assist millions of refugees overseas and address the lingering U.S. asylum backlog.

Away from alarming stands, let's try to put matters (or numbers) into perspective.

Out of some 26 million refugees worldwide, and the 1.2 million refugees in need of resettlement according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only 81,337 were referred for resettlement in 2018 (0.3 percent of all refugees and 7 percent of those considered to be in need of resettlement).

Despite dropping admissions, the United States under the Trump administration remains the top country for refugee resettlement in the world.

Resettlement is just the tip of the iceberg of refugee protection. The United States remains the leading donor of humanitarian assistance. In fiscal 2018 alone, the U.S. contribution to UNHCR reached a high of $1.6 billion.

U.S. humanitarian efforts include assisting thousands of asylum-seekers already present on American soil. These are vulnerable people seeking relief under the same standard as refugees. The United States received the greatest number of new asylum applications worldwide in calendar years 2017 and 2018 and anticipates receiving 350,000 new asylum claims in fiscal 2020.

The current debate about resettled refugees often revolves around numbers (how many should be allowed in?) while little attention is given to the fairness of the selection process and the scope of U.S integration practices (what happens after they get here?).

Resettlement must be a ticket out only for refugees who are genuinely at risk in the countries hosting them. But contrary to common claims, for most resettlement is not a matter of life and death. Only 17 percent of UNHCR global resettlement submissions in 2018 were urgent or emergency ones. A refugee ceiling of 18,000 would cover most if not all the U.N.'s urgent and emergency submissions worldwide this coming year.

Moreover, resettled refugees should be provided with every tool possible for successful integration. Admitting fewer refugees but spending more on each one can ensure they receive the appropriate help necessary to build a successful life in the United States. This is not a negligible expense; the government spent an average of $32,533 on resettlement for each refugee brought here in fiscal 2019 and will spend $49,555 in fiscal 2020.

Refugee resettlement should not be used as a political tool or a conscience alleviator. Focusing instead on the best way to help refugees, whether inside or outside the United States, is the commendable thing to do.