Washington, D.C.—Following reports that the administration is considering dropping the number of admitted refugees to an all-time low for fiscal year 2018, Human Rights First said that such a move would be a betrayal of the United States’ historic legacy on refugee protection during the world’s greatest refugee crisis in recorded history. The organization also warns that setting such a low admissions cap sends the wrong signal to U.S. allies and other frontline states who are already hosting the majority of the world’s refugees, and may further destabilize refugee-hosting regions, threatening the United States’ national security.
“At a time when there are more vulnerable refugees in the world than at any other moment in history, it is unconscionable and short-sighted for this administration to slam the door on those desperately fleeing for their lives,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The impulse to turn inward, to focus only on ‘America first’ may be tempting for some, but if we truly care about ensuring a safer world for ourselves and our children, there is nothing more damaging to our national security than signaling to the world that the United States has turned its back on those who need it most.”
The U.N. Refugee Agency reports that in 2016 there were over 65 million people displaced from their homes. Nearly half of them are children. On average, a person somewhere in the world is forced to flee their home every three seconds. While ten percent of the world’s 21 million refugees are estimated to need resettlement, only about one percent have access to resettlement. This drastic reduction in U.S. resettlement may encourage other countries to do likewise, leaving front-line countries, such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, which host nearly five million Syrian refugees alone, struggling to host all of them. These and other developing countries already host the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees, and their stability is critical to U.S. foreign policy and security interests.
Human Rights First recently released a new analysis detailing the impacts of this policy on vulnerable individuals fleeing persecution and on U.S. national security interests and global leadership.
The United States’ refugee vetting procedures—which include extensive and comprehensive interviews as well as multiple rounds of security vetting with a wide array of U.S. and international intelligence and law enforcement agencies—are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world by former U.S. military leaders and former U.S. national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. Former CIA directors, national security advisors, and secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security have explained that resettling refugees advances U.S. national security interests, and that halting refugee resettlement harms U.S. national security.
The administration has sought to justify the decrease in refugee resettlement by arguing that the United States has a backlog of asylum cases. While Human Rights First has documented the negative impact the backlog has on asylum seekers, the organization notes that even if one combined the number of asylum seekers held up in the backlog and the number of refugees proposed today by the administration, the United States’ overall refugee acceptance per capita would pale in comparison to the numbers of those being hosted in front line states. Turkey hosts 35 refugees per 1,000 individuals, Jordan hosts 89 refugees per 1,000, and Lebanon hosts 173 per 1,000. If the United States were to admit only 50,000 refugees, the rate in the United States would only be less than 1 per 1,000, even when including the asylum office backlog, a dismally small number given the worldwide need.
“The United States’ refugee admissions program is not a zero-sum game; we are more than capable of providing safety to those fleeing violence and persecution around the world,” added Acer. “It is reprehensible for this administration to pit vulnerable individuals against each other, as though there should be a limit to our humanity.”