Proposed Refugee Cap Threatens U.S. National Security
By Kevin Schuster
A new report suggest the Trump Administration plans to decrease the number of admitted refugees to 25,000 or lower for fiscal year 2019—a historic low. This move would be a betrayal of the United States’ historic legacy on refugee protection and would send the wrong signal to U.S. allies and other states who are already hosting the majority of the world’s refugees. The reported decrease would also further destabilize refugee-hosting regions and threaten the United States’ national security.
The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that 68.5 million people were displaced from their homes last year. Over half are under the age of 18. Another U.N. report predicts that the number of refugees who need to be resettled will increase by 17% in 2019. With record numbers of refugees throughout the world, the United States should be increasing its resettlement quota—not lowering it.
A refugee admissions cap of 25,000 would be remarkably low given the fact that the world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis since WWII. If the United States doubled its proposed refugee resettlement cap, and included the asylum backlog numbers, the United States would have around 1 refugee per 1,000 inhabitants. This pales in comparison to front-line countries like Lebanon, which hosts 164 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants.
This drastic reduction in U.S. resettlement may encourage other countries to do the same. Front-line countries—such as Pakistan, Turkey, and Uganda—already host over one million refugees each. And we know that large refugee populations can be taxing on countries with limited capacity. Jordan, for example, recently shut their borders to Syrian refugees due to a lack of help or support from the international community. The United States should relieve the undue burden of front-line countries by increasing its commitment to resettling refugees.
An increased refugee cap would help stabilize developing, front-line countries and improve U.S. national security interests. Last year, Human Rights First released an analysis on the negative implications that low refugee admissions have on U.S. foreign policy. Additionally, former CIA directors, national security advisers, and secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security have explained that resettling refugees advances U.S. national security interests. Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden, for example, stated that halting the U.S. refugee program is “dangerous” to the national security interests of the United States.
The Trump Administration cited “enormous security challenges” in justifying their attempt to end the refugee resettlement program. The United States’ refugee vetting procedures, however, 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. They 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.
The administration also falsely justifies the decrease in refugee resettlement by arguing that the United States has a large backlog of asylum cases. While a lengthy backlog negatively impacts asylum seekers, the Asylum Division—which handles the backlog—is entirely separate from the Refugee Corps. One program need not come at the expense of the other.
Rather than rob resources from the Refugee Corps, the Trump Administration should properly fund and staff both the Refugee Corps and the Asylum Division. This would include hiring officers capable of addressing the asylum backlog for which funds are already allocated. Additionally, since the asylum backlog has been exacerbated by the Trump Administration’s decision to send Asylum Division personnel to the border— and away from parts of the country with the greatest need for these resources—the White House is now in a position to point at the mess it helped create as justification for limiting refugee admissions.
This reported drastic cut to refugee admissions is unjustifiable. Higher refugee admissions would improve relations between the United States and front-line countries and improve our nation’s safety and security. The Trump Administration must set the refugee admissions cap at a number that reflects the world refugee crisis.