U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021

On September 30, 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump will be submitting to Congress a report that he has determined that the U.S. will reduce its refugee admissions for Fiscal 2021 (October 1, 2020—September 30, 2021) to 15,000. [1]

It must be understood that the individuals who will be admitted to the U.S. under this quota already have been vetted and determined by a U.N. agency to have met the international and U.S. legal definition of “refugee:” someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[2]

The State Department attempted to reduce the adverse humanitarian consequences of this reduction by claiming, “The United States is committed to achieving the best humanitarian outcomes while advancing our foreign policy interests.  Given the dire situation of nearly 80 million displaced people around the world, the mission of American diplomacy is more important than ever.”

Other points of this attempt to reduce the adverse consequences of this decision are the following:

  • “In line with the U.S. National Security Strategy, we are working to assist refugees and other displaced people as close to their homes as possible until they can safely and voluntarily return to rebuild their lives, their communities, and their countries.  As part of our longstanding leadership in international humanitarian crisis response, the United States provided more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance in Fiscal Year 2019 and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance over the past decade.”
  • “The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 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 accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “Refugee resettlement is only one aspect of U.S. humanitarian-based immigration efforts.  Since 1980, America has welcomed almost 3.8 million refugees and asylees, and our country hosts hundreds of thousands more people under other humanitarian immigration categories.  This year’s proposed refugee resettlement program continues that legacy with specific allocations for people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the United States has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba, and Venezuela.” (Emphasis added.)

The State Department continued, The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 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 accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Emphasis added.)

According to the State Department, the U.S. anticipates receiving 285,000 asylum requests in the upcoming fiscal year. Such applications must meet the previously mentioned international and U.S. definition of “refugee.” However, the Department’s statement admits the U.S. has a  “massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals.”

After criticisms of this decision emerged from various groups that are discussed below, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo from Rome tried to defend this decision. He said, “We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so. Certainly so long as President Donald Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”

Reactions [3]

This establishment of a 15,000 quota for refugees is a 3,000 reduction from last year’s quota of 18,000, which was the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. In contrast, in Fiscal 2017, the last full year of the Obama Administration, the quota was 85,000 while the Trump Administration’s first two years (Fiscal 2018 and 2019) set the quotas at 53,000 and 30,000.

This further reduction is seen as another point of President Trump’s “anti-immigrant themes in the closing month of his re-election campaign.” It was done as the President was “unleashing a xenophobic tirade against one of the nation’s most prominent refugees, Representative Ilhan Oma, on Wednesday night at a rally in her home state of Minnesota.”

According to a Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, this presidential decision “in one fell swoop, . . .managed  to betray his country’s humanitarian interests, its national security interests, its economic interests and even his own narrow political interests to boot. . . . The only constituency helped by Trump’s latest cruelty are the bigots and knee-jerk nationalists crafting his policies. For the rest of us, it represents an incalculable loss.”

As anticipated, refugee advocacy groups condemned this decision.

  • Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, called the 15,000 cap an “abdication” of the nation’s humanitarian leadership role in the world. “This absurdly low number is based on nothing more than xenophobic political pandering, and it’s no surprise that this all-time low comes during an election year. We have shown as we have resettled thousands of refugees that there’s no evidence any of these arrivals have endangered Americans. Refugees come to this country after the most extreme vetting procedures, including medical-health checks.”
  • The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s Executive Director, Veena Iyer, said, “Slashing refugee numbers and refusing admission to desperate people whose lives are in danger, especially those whose lives are in danger because of their service to U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers, is appalling. Instead of leading the world in protecting the persecuted, the actions of this administration are an abdication of leadership.”
  • Oxfam America’s Isra Chaker said, “This inexcusable new admissions ceiling is a mere fraction of the number of refugees the United States can and should resettle in a year. During the final year of the previous administration, the U.S. safely and successfully resettled an average of 15,000 refugees every two months.”

The same reaction came from faith-based groups.

  • Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian aid agency, said Trump has reneged on his promise to protect persecuted Christians in the world. “Instead, we’ve seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90% in some cases over the last four years. This is unconscionable.”
  • Rev. John L. McCullough, head of the Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in the United States, “described the shrinking of refugee admissions as immoral and urged Congress to . . . recommend changes or seek to influence the decision through budgeting, but is largely powerless to alter the determination. . . .Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger.”
  • “The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, denounced the chipping away of the refugee program as part of “the ongoing Trump administration effort to maintain systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
  • Isaiah, a Minnesota faith coalition stated, “We know that we are better off together and that all of us, no matter where we come from or how we pray, want our communities to thrive and our voices to be heard. Overcoming tremendous challenges, Somali Minnesotans bravely moved to Minnesota with their families and have helped make this state vibrant.”

Finally this Trump decision is impeached by recent praises of refugees for their contributions to the economy and culture of 29 states by their governors (both Democrat and Republican).

For example, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz’s letter to Secretary Pompeo stated, ““Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Transmission of the President’s Report to Congress on the Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Sept. 30, 2020). 

[2] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1 (A)(2),189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954; Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. I(2), 606 U.N.T.S. 267, entered into force Oct. 4,, 1967; Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1101(a)(42), Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2010).

[3] U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S., dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 4, 2019); Kanno-Youngs & Shear, Trump Virtually Cuts Off Refugees as He Unleashes a Tirade on Immigrants, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2020); Rampell, Trump’s refugee ceiling is bad for everyone except bigots, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);  Watson & Lee, Faith Groups decry Trump’s plans for record low refugee cap, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020); Miroff, Trump cuts off refugee cap to lowest level ever, depicts them on campaign trail as a threat and burden, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);Smith, Trump administration again seeks to slash refugee numbers, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2020); Rights groups appalled as Trump cuts US refugee admissions to record low, Guardian (Oct. 1, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020). 

Update on States’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement

President Trump on September 28 issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consents to refugee resettlements for Fiscal 2020. Thereafter, as previously noted in this blog, at least three states—Utah, North Dakota and Minnesota– provided such  consents with at least three North Dakota counties, one Minnesota county and the City of Minneapolis doing the same.[1]

Here are some updates on this subject while we await until the January 31, 2020, deadline for consenting to see what other states and localities do in response to this challenge.

Evangelical Support for Refugee Resettlement[2]

In the meantime, we have learned that two evangelical nonprofit supporters of U.S. immigration—World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table—have been urging U.S. States to consent to resettlement of refugees in Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).  This effort is directed at the governors of the following 15 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The World Relief president, Scott Arbeiter, said, “After being forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disaster and being legally allowed entry to the U.S., the last thing refugees should have to experience is being denied access to communities in which they wish to dwell. Halting the resettlement of refugees to states will disrupt families and could lead to the end of vital ministries by local churches.”

Consents by Arizona State and Local Governments[3]

On December 6, the Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, sent a letter of consent to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The letter stated, in part, “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here.”

This action was applauded by Arizona’s State House Speaker Rusty Bowers: “Our state is one that offers opportunity for all. We welcome people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures to come here and share in that special spirit. I applaud Governor Ducey for affirming that Arizona will continue to welcome religious and politically-persecuted refugees who have been vetted through the State Department’s Reception and Placement Program.” Similar messages came from Stanford Prescott, Arizona’s community engagement coordinator of the International Rescue Committee, and from Arizona’s Surge Network of evangelical churches.

On December 11, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego added her city’s consent, telling Secretary Pompeo, “”The refugee resettlement program has a long and important history” in Phoenix; “these individuals have made invaluable contributions to our community and economy, opening businesses, creating community, and bringing greater diversity to the nation’s fifth largest city.” The same day this city’s county (Maricopa) did likewise. Previously other local Arizona authorities had provided their consents–Pima County and Tucson.

Other States Providing Consents[4]

The consent column also has been joined by the states of  Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington with Democratic governors and New Hampshire with a Republican governor.

Texas’ Republican Governor  Greg Abbott has not yet offered his decision on this issue, despite pleas from Texas evangelicals and the mayor of Fort Worth to continue accepting refugees.

Conclusion

Now there are at least nine states that have provided written consents to the resettlement of refugees for Fiscal 2020, while so far no state has declined to consent. This blog approves of these actions.

Rather surprisingly there is no readily identifiable website with an ongoing national tally of those categories. (If any reader knows of such a website, please identify it in a comment to this post.) There also is some confusion from the various articles about the deadline for submission of such consents to the Department of State and the period of time to be covered by such consents. (Comments with clarification on these issues are also welcome.)

All of this activity and confusion about the U.S. new lower quota for refugee admissions and the new requirement for state and local governments’ consenting to such resettlements are causing great uncertainties and challenges for the refugee resettlement agencies throughout the U.S.

One of those in Minnesota (International Institute of Minnesota) this year is celebrating its centennial of helping refugees and other immigrants with English classes, job training and other supports. One of its celebratory events last week was hosting a ceremony for the naturalization of new U.S. citizens. Welcoming them was U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel, who said, “Becoming an American does not mean renouncing your love for the land where you were born or forgetting your native language and the songs and dances you learned as a child. As a U.S. citizen, you are free to follow your own path wherever it takes you.”[5]

All of this is happening while the U.N. is calling for all nations to increase their acceptance of the escalating numbers of forcibly displaced people, now over 70.8 million, 25.9 million of whom are refugees.[6]

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[1]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 4, 2019; U.S. Senators Oppose U.S.Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 11, 2019);Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019).

[2] Smith & Jordan, Trump Said Local Officials Could Block Refugees. So Far, they Haven’t, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2019); World Relief, Press Release: World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table Urge Governors in 15 States To Accept Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019).

[3] See n.2 supra; Gonzalez, Arizona will continue to resettle refugees, Gov. Doug Ducey tells Trump administration, azcentral (Dec. 6, 2019); Gonzalez, Phoenix, Maricopa County tell Trump administration they will keep accepting refugees, azcentral (Dec. 11, 2019); Resnik, Arizona leaders tell Trump they will welcome refugees. That doesn’t mean we’ll see more of them, 12News (Dec. 15, 2019).

[4] Macchi, More US States Welcome Refugees Under New Trump Rule, Voice of America (Dec. 6, 2019).

[5]  Rao, Refugee Center’s Future in Flux at 100, StarTribune (Dec. 16, 2019).

[6] UNHCR, International community must do ‘far more’ to shoulder responsibility for refugees, says UN chief (Dec. 17, 2019); UNHCR, Global Refugee Forum (Dec. 17-18, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Urges ‘Reboot of Refugee Response as Millions Uprooted, N,Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2019).