The Trump administration has resettled slightly more than 10,000 refugees as it nears the midpoint of the fiscal year, putting it on pace for by far the lowest total since the modern system was established nearly four decades ago.
President Trump had set a cap of 45,000 refugees this year, but at the current pace it will come in at less than half that — leaving refugee advocates fearing he’s done damage that will last years into the future.
Muslim refugees, who during President Barack Obama’s final full year in office accounted for nearly half of refugees at this point, are just 17 percent of the total in 2018.
And refugees from terrorist hot-spot countries singled out in Mr. Trump’s travel ban, who accounted for about half of refugees in 2016, have fallen to less than 5 percent now, according to the latest State Department figures.
In one stunning case just 42 Syrians were admitted over the last six months — down from more than 5,000 Mr. Obama admitted from October 2015 through March 2016.
For security advocates, the numbers are a win. For refugee advocates, they’re a sign that something has gone amiss in America’s obligations.
“President Trump has essentially slammed the door on the resettlement of some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugee families,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protections at Human Rights First.
Mr. Trump campaigned on just these sorts of changes, blasting Mr. Obama for his approach to refugees and vowing “extreme vetting” once he took office.
His efforts to impose a broad travel ban on visitors from some target countries and to pause the refugee program were restricted by the courts, but he does have power to limit the overall number of refugees and to set the pace for processing, and has used those to cut the numbers dramatically.
Mr. Obama, anticipating turning the government over to Hillary Clinton, had set a cap of 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017. Mr. Trump battled the courts to cut that number, ending up at nearly 54,000, then set this year’s cap at 45,000.
The State Department said that’s an upper limit, not a target.
An official also cautioned against reading any yearlong conclusions from where the numbers stand halfway through the year.
“Refugee admissions rarely proceed at a steady pace throughout the year. It is premature to predict the number of refugees who will ultimately be admitted in FY 2018,” the department said.
“The United States continues to prioritize the admission of vulnerable refugees who have been persecuted because of race, political opinion, nationality, religion, or membership in a particular social group,” an official said.
Refugee advocates say that while there are no guarantees in the refugee program, it’s wrong to say it’s riddled with security risks. Those approved for the program go through more vetting than most visitors or immigrants.
And they said they feared the moves Mr. Trump had made would not just lower the numbers but actually cut capacity for the nonprofit aid agencies that resettle refugees in the U.S.
“The system is being damaged on purpose,” said Michael Breen, president of the Truman Center. “I don’t see there’s any other way to interpret this.”
Despite the headwinds, Dekow Sagar, a Somalian refugee who fled to spend 16 years in a camp in Kenya before being admitted to the U.S. in 2007, said the hope of reaching the U.S. remains strong among refugees.
“America has been the only hope refugees have when it comes to having better opportunities,” he said.
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