The new fiscal year began on Thursday, October 1, so it's time to take a look at last fiscal year's refugee resettlement admissions.
In FY 2020 (October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020), a total of 11,814 refugees were resettled in the United States, under a refugee ceiling of 18,000. These admissions (close to 66 percent of the announced target) are to be viewed under a unique spotlight: the Covid-19 pandemic that affected most of FY 2020. Strict measures (such as travel restrictions, closing of borders, etc.) were undertaken as early as January 2020 by many countries, including the United States, in an effort to contain this contagious virus that appeared in China around December 2019.
Refugee admissions into the United States were "officially" suspended on March 19, 2020, following UN agencies' announcement of the temporary suspension of the refugee resettlement program in view of the Covid-19 global health crisis. In reality, however, refugees were still being admitted into the United States despite the virus outbreak, albeit in smaller numbers. Even Australia's unwanted refugees were still being resettled here despite the pandemic. The refugee resettlement program "suspension" ended on June 18, when the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world body's refugee agency) announced "the resumption of resettlement departures for refugees".
FY 2020 refugee admissions can be divided into three parts: Before the official suspension of the refugee resettlement program (October 1, 2019 to March 18, 2020); during that suspension (March 19, 2020, to June 17, 2020); and, finally, after the suspension was lifted (June 18, 2020, through September 30, 2020):
|Before Suspension:||7,380 refugees|
|During Suspension:||285 refugees|
|After Suspension:||4,149 refugees|
Two important points before I move to a detailed description of FY 2020 resettled refugees:
First, according to a media note released October 1 on the "Transmission of the President's Report to Congress on the Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021", the Trump administration plans on resettling 15,000 refugees in FY 2021. It also expects some 290,000 new asylum claims that same fiscal year. This ceiling and other refugee and asylum policies will undoubtedly be changed should former Vice President Joe Biden win the upcoming presidential election.
As explained in the media note, President Trump's proposed refugee admissions for FY 2021 "reflects the Administration's continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic." It also accounts for the asylum case backlog (over 1.1 million individuals) by prioritizing those who are already in the country and for the "arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
But the pandemic is still raging (over 7.2 million cases — including now the president of the United States and the first lady — and more than 200,000 deaths) and the U.S. economy is far from recovered, with millions of Americans filing for unemployment and countless number of businesses going bankrupt.
If the Trump administration is truly prioritizing the safety and well-being of Americans, the question remains: Why place thousands of refugees in American communities amid a health crisis, knowing that refugees are especially susceptible to Covid-19 since most are forced to live in close quarters and in densely populated areas with weakened health systems?
As I wrote this July, there are also many other medical concerns related to refugee placement. Refugees have specific health needs since they usually come from situations of poor hygienic conditions and health systems with a wide range of unmet health needs (including nutritional deficiencies, hepatitis B infection, tuberculosis infection, parasitosis, etc.) and mental health concerns such as alcohol and drug abuse. These health concerns can strain U.S. health and social systems, which are already overwhelmed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Moreover, and even more concerning, there is no indication that refugees are being tested for the Covid-19 virus overseas or placed under quarantine upon arrival in the United States. Will the Trump administration announce additional protective measures this fiscal year in view of this pandemic? Are state and local officials to be notified of refugee arrivals and provided with all applicable health records?
Specific health-related conditions (called Class A conditions) that could pose a threat to public health are grounds for inadmissibility into the United States. Refugees with Class A health-related conditions (such as active tuberculosis, cholera, untreated syphilis, etc.) are already not allowed entry here. New diseases may be added to the Class A list in the event of a public health emergency. The president of the United States has the authority to issue an executive order to make updates to the list of Class A conditions to include the Covid-19 virus. Will President Trump do that?
If the Covid-19 virus did not spare President Trump (one of the most protected men in the world today), how wise is it to bring refugees here from regions that are already affected by this virus?
Second, should Joe Biden win this November, the FY 2021 refugee admissions ceiling is bound to increase nearly sevenfold (up to 125,000 from FY 2020's 18,000, close to a 600 percent jump). Here are some of the measures related to refugee policy he has vowed to undertake as president:
"As one of the co-sponsors of the 1980 Refugee Act", Biden plans on restoring "America's historic role as leader in resettlement". As president, he will "increase the number of refugees we welcome into this country, setting an annual global refugee target of 125,000 — up from a ceiling of 18,000 under Trump — and will seek to further raise it over time." He "will pursue policies that increase opportunities for faith and local communities to sponsor refugee resettlement." He will encourage private sponsorships of refugees and "make more channels, such as higher education visas, available to those seeking safety." He also vows to "restore asylum laws" and "work with Congress to protect refugee policy from drastic and arbitrary reductions and establish a minimum admissions number of at least 95,000 refugees annually." (Emphases added.)
Kamala Harris also supports the "Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement (GRACE) Act" that would "prevent a U.S. President from setting a Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions at a level below 95,000 in a given fiscal year." (Emphasis added.)
One measure Trump could take that probably would not be reversed by Biden should he become the next president is adding Covid-19 to the list of Class A conditions that pose a threat to public health and are grounds for inadmissibility of refugees and other potential migrants. Biden knows how devastating this pandemic is. And President Trump still has the opportunity to update that list in order to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus and help protect the American people.
Refugee Resettlement Roundup for FY 2020. According to the Refugee Processing Center portal, in FY 2020 (October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), a total of 11,814 refugees were resettled in the United States, under a refugee ceiling of 18,000.
As a reminder, in FY 2019 (October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019), a total of 30,000 refugees were resettled in the United States under a refugee ceiling of 30,000. The FY 2018 ceiling was 45,000, with 22,491 refugees admitted (see here for the details of FY 2016 refugee admissions, the last year fully within the Obama administration). A three-year roundup of refugee resettlement admissions under the Trump administration (January 20, 2017, to January 20, 2020) can be accessed here.
FY 2020 Total Admissions:
|Animist, Buddhist, Hindu||210||1.8 percent|
|All Others||281||2.4 percent|
|Top-10 Sending Nationalities|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||2,868||24.3 percent|
|El Salvador||365||3.1 percent|
|Top-10 Placement States|
|North Carolina||469||4.0 percent|
* The "Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions Numbers for FY 2020" was issued on November 1, 2019, following consultation with Congress.