Ninety percent reduction of refugee resettlement in the U.S.

On July 10, World Relief and Open Doors USA published a joint report, which revealed that, as of 2015, the United States has experienced a 90% reduction in the number of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Yezidi refugees.

These numbers are the result of considerable changes to the United States’ approach to refugee resettlement. Last November, the refugee resettlement was limited to 18,000—the lowest in U.S. history. Of these slots, 5,000 are reserved for refugees based on their religious tradition. In 2015, the U.S. admitted more than 18,000 Christians alone from countries where they are persecuted.  Halfway through 2020, the U.S. admitted fewer than 950. 

In 2016, Pew Research Center reported that “harassment of members of the world’s two largest [religious] groups—Christians and Muslims—by governments and social groups continued to be widespread around the world, with both experiencing sharp increases in the number of countries where they were harassed in 2016. There was also a jump in the number of countries where Jews were harassed in 2016 following a small decrease in 2015.” Pew Research Center added that, since 2007, the number of countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion has increased.

This increase is due to nationalist groups and parties gaining standing in 2016. Social hostilities—acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or societal groups—have gradually increased since 2007 as well. 

Understanding the basics of refugee resettlement may prove beneficial.  Resettlement is defined by the UN Refugee Agency as the “careful selection by governments for purposes of lawful admission of the most vulnerable refugees who can neither return to their home country nor live in safety in neighboring host countries.” Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a refugee is an alien who has experienced persecution or “has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Those who meet this definition may be considered for either refugee status if they are outside the U.S. or asylum status if they are already in the U.S. Despite the remarkably low refugee resettlement cap of 18,000, the U.S. expects to process over 350,000 new asylum claims this year. Their claims will join the over-a-million asylum seekers who are already in the country, awaiting adjudication of their claims.

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to President Trump and architect of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, argues that the refugee resettlement cap cut is necessary because of the increasing numbers of asylum seekers attempting to enter the U.S. at the Mexican border.

The U.S. Department of State said in a press release, “The current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large numbers of refugees.”

The aforementioned “burdens” are a backlog of almost 1,000,000 cases in U.S. immigration courts. Critics of the administration say the border situation should not be an excuse for essentially abandoning refugees around the globe, noting that the U.S. was able to process roughly 30,000 refugees in 2019, even as the number of asylum cases rose.

Advocates for refugee admission and immigration lawyers argue that the administration is forsaking the ethical duty and role of the U.S. as an exemplary place of safe harbor for those seeking freedom from oppression. The question, then, is not of the capacity, but of the efficiency of the refugee and asylum vetting process. 

Lenise Byrd, a junior family and humanservices major, said, “It brings me great sadness to hear about the lack of action our country has taken to assits the refugees who have come to us for help.”

Some, like Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville—auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration—bemoan this change to the nation’s historically embracing approach to refugee resettlement.

“We are living in what St. John Paul II called a ‘new age of martyrdom,’ where many worldwide face persecutions for their faith,” Dorsonville said. “There are dramatic decreases in the ability of those fleeing for their lives to access protection. I pray our nation will reverse course and once again stand with refugees and asylum seekers, including those escaping religious persecution,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Julie Ricard