As the end of March approaches and the fiscal year reaches its halfway point, the Trump administration has resettled only 11,249 refugees, according to data analyzed this week from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. That puts us on pace to welcome less than 23,000 refugees this year, which would be the lowest total since the modern resettlement program was created in 1980. And it’s not even close to reaching the administration’s own ceiling of 30,000 for the year — itself the lowest in the program’s history. The administration can’t even keep pace with what are already historic reductions in refugee flows.
Moreover, the lack of resettlement from the Middle East and Latin America is eye-popping: the United States is on pace to resettle less than one-fifth of these regional allotments. Here’s a look at the Trump administration’s (lack of) progress towards meeting the resettlement caps for each region halfway through the fiscal year.
While the proportion of the caps met for Europe and Africa are above 50 percent, the Trump administration has made almost no progress in resettling refugees from the Latin American/Caribbean or the Middle Eastern/South Asian regions. This has pulled the total percent down to 37 percent and puts us on track to resettle about three-fourths of the cap.
Throughout the years, regional disparities in refugee resettlement have been fairly common, but imbalances of this magnitude were largely unprecedented before the Trump administration. The chart below depicts the disparities in refugee resettlement at the midpoints of each fiscal year between 2012 and 2019. Resettlement numbers during the second half of the year tend to be higher than the first half, but making up the difference with the current disparities seems highly unlikely.
Before President Trump took office in 2017, the largest disparity between regions depicted on the chart was during fiscal year 2014, when 55 percent of refugees from the Latin American/Caribbean regions were resettled, compared to 29 percent of Europeans.
But in March of 2017, Europe had 59 percentage points more of its cap met than the Latin American/Caribbean regions. The disparities ballooned further at the 2018 midpoint, where the administration admitted 87 percent of the European cap while most of the other regions barely scratched above 20 percent. This year, the Trump administration has so far resettled 61 percent of the African cap, but seemingly at the expense of the Middle Eastern/South Asian and Latin American/Caribbean regions, which were slashed to the single digits.
These unprecedented regional disparities come at time when the overall admissions ceiling is at an all-time low for the second consecutive year. Last year, the Trump administration lowered the official ceiling from 110,000 to 45,000, yet still only managed to resettle enough refugees to meet 23 percent of the cap midway through the fiscal year. This year, the Trump Administration lowered the cap once again, this time to 30,000, and reached 37 percent of the cap at the midpoint.
For any other president, reaching 37 percent of the admissions ceiling after six months would be nothing out of the ordinary. In 2016 the Obama administration only resettled 34 percent of the refugee cap by March. But that was when the refugee cap was set at 85,000 — and the United States still succeeded in hitting the ceiling during the next six months. From 1980-2018 the resettlement cap never sank below 70,000, including the years that directly followed the 9/11 attacks.
Why is President Trump lowering the refugee cap to such dramatic levels? As Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief once put it, President Trump sees the admissions ceiling as nothing more than a maximum number, whereas previous administrations viewed it as a goal to reach.
The budget proposal the president released earlier in March makes this even more clear: It recommends slashing the budget of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration by 90 percent.
Since taking office, President Trump has continuously disregarded intelligence assessments revealing that refugee resettlement poses minimal risks, and even suppressed a study conducted by his own administration after it found that refugees contributed a net $63 billion to U.S. government revenue from 2005 through 2014.
By deflecting evidence with fear, President Trump is rapidly dismantling the refugee resettlement program amid the largest refugee crisis since World War II. For years, the refugee program has been a way for the United States to extend the American dream to the world’s most vulnerable people, all while exercising the very values — liberty, opportunity, compassion — that make that dream possible. Moreover, the resettlement program has played a unique role in advancing U.S. national security objectives.
Resettlement is at an all-time low and trending in the wrong direction. The implications are dire for the international and domestic refugee resettlement apparatus and threaten our values as a country. Undermining the refugee program weakens the United States at home and abroad.