by Professor Idean Salehyan

Professor of Political Science, University of North Texas

Adjunct Fellow, Niskanen Center


The Trump administration has dramatically reduced the number of refugees resettled to the United States. For Fiscal Year 2018, the cap on the number of resettled refugees was lowered to 45,000, although the actual number of admissions is likely to be far lower.

These cuts were predicated on the notion that refugees could potentially pose a security risk to the U.S. However, these fears are misplaced, as vetting procedures for refugees are quite robust. In addition there is a strategic case to be made that, refugee resettlement is a useful tool for achieving broader U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The United States has a long tradition of welcoming people fleeing conflict and persecution. Beyond the humanitarian impact of generous refugee admissions programs, they also help bring stability to conflict-ridden regions. Through refugee resettlement and generous overseas assistance programs, the U.S. has reduced the burden on countries of first asylum, which often have weak capacity to manage migration. Moreover, refugee resettlement helps to facilitate the cooperation of regional partners and allies as the U.S. pursues broader geostrategic objectives, including military operations.

Finally, since the refugee resettlement program was created in 1980, not a single refugee has been involved in a fatal terrorist attack on the U.S., attesting to the robustness of vetting procedures. This includes thousands of refugees resettled from Muslim nations, including Syria and Iraq, which are believed to pose the most risk.

Instead, the vast majority of refugees have successfully adapted to life in America, contributed positively to the economy, and eventually acquired citizenship. These success stories serve to foster a positive image of the United States abroad, countering extremist narratives. Therefore, cuts to the resettlement program do little to enhance national security, and indeed, run counter to that end.

The full paper is available here.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay