Record Low Refugee Cap for FY 2019: Bad Humanitarian and Economic Policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on September 17, 2018 that the U.S. will cap refugee admissions in FY 2019 at 30,000.

This is a one-third reduction from the 45,000 cap set by the Trump Administration for FY2018, which at that time was the lowest cap ever since Congress approved the Refugee Act of 1980.

As a practical matter, the U.S. is on track to admit fewer than 22,000 refugees by the time FY 2018 ends on September 30th, less than half the number who could have entered under the current year’s cap.   If refugee admissions continue at the same pace in FY 2019, they will fall far below the new 30,000 limit.

In Maine, with just over a week remaining in the fiscal year, only 66 refugees have been resettled.   This is a dramatic change from the approximately 650 refugees resettled in Maine during FY 2016, the last full year of the prior administration.  (For a detailed and accurate narration of why refugee admissions have been so low in FY 2018, listen to this This American Life podcast).

As of June 2018, there were a record 25.4 million refugees forced out of their home countries worldwide, up from 22.5 million a year ago.   Reducing refugee admissions now is an unconscionable abdication of the U.S.’s leadership role in providing safe haven and protection from human rights abuses.

As justification for the drop in refugee admissions, Secretary Pompeo noted the backlog of nearly 800,000 asylum cases in the U.S., but that is a false equivalence.   That backlog has built up over decades.  Processing asylum applications of individuals who have been able to make their way to the U.S. to apply for protection from persecution from inside the U.S. in no way diminishes the State Department’s obligation to reach refugees living in precarious conditions abroad so that they can apply for permanent resettlement in the U.S.  Moreover, as the Cato Institute points out, contrary to Secretary Pompeo’s assertion, the U.S. is far from the “most generous” country when it comes to refugee resettlement..

Moreover, refugee contribute economically to Maine and  to the U.S.  as even a government analysis that the administration chose not to publish confirmed.  At a time when Maine’s, and the nation’s, labor pool is shrinking as fertility rates decrease and “baby boomers” retire, the U.S. needs immigrants, including refugees, and their children.  By closing our door to refugees, we harm our standing in the world, and our ability to prosper economically here at home.