The full paper is available here.

by Professor Idean Salehyan

Professor of Political Science, University of North Texas

Senior Fellow, Niskanen Center

Executive Summary

The Trump administration has repeatedly cut refugee resettlement numbers, and there have been proposals to admit no refugees at all in fiscal year 2020. Doing so undermines the United States’ position as a global leader in humanitarian affairs and runs contrary to a long, bipartisan tradition of welcoming those fleeing persecution and violence. Since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has successfully admitted over 3 million refugees from around the world. These refugees have integrated well into American society, and the USRAP has had significant foreign policy benefits, as the U.S. seeks to bring stability to troubled regions of the world.

This report details the findings from interviews with 15 key experts in the refugee resettlement arena, from a variety of governmental and nongovernmental agencies. These experts served under Republican and Democratic administrations, and their collective experiences span over four decades of refugee admissions policies. As a whole, the group spoke to the unique leadership position of the United States in the management of refugee crises and the significant benefits that the USRAP provides as a component of a holistic foreign policy strategy. They overwhelmingly spoke to the negative consequences of current, deep cuts to refugee resettlement numbers.

Five key themes emerged from the interviews. On these points, there was remarkable consistency across the interviewees’ responses. First, the United States has historically been a leader in refugee resettlement. To the extent that the U.S. is willing to resettle a significant number of refugees, this serves as a catalyst for getting other nations to do their part to manage refugee crises. Second, while fundamentally a humanitarian program, the USRAP provides other significant benefits for U.S. foreign policy. It facilitates cooperation with U.S. military efforts, helps to stabilize potentially volatile regions of the world, and casts a positive light on the U.S. among international audiences. Third, there had been broad, bipartisan support for the program — both across presidential administrations as well as among members of Congress. In recent years, however, this bipartisanship has dissipated to a large extent. Fourth, while there have been heightened fears about terrorists attempting to abuse the refugee resettlement program — particularly with respect to Syrian refugees — the experts believed that these fears were exaggerated. Finally, none of the experts believed that the Trump administration’s decision to slash the refugee program is prudent policy. They expressed serious concerns about the long-term consequences of maintaining historically low admissions numbers.

From the very founding of the United States, it has welcomed immigrants and refugees seeking freedom and opportunity. Since passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, the United States has been the global leader in refugee resettlement — a tangible expression of these core American values. Reversing current policies and returning to a generous admissions program, is, therefore, sound policy and a reflection of the U.S. commitment to human rights, and it will save thousands of vulnerable refugees.

The full paper is available here.