Refugees are not simply impoverished migrants. A refugee is defined, by a 1951 international convention, as a person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted … is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
The maximum number of refugees that the U.S. should accept in a given year is a fraught question. Dara Lind reports that in the final year of the Carter administration, federal officials settled on the answer 231,700. Under Reagan, the answer fluctuated between a high of 217,000 and a low of 67,000. The most common answer under George H.W. Bush was 131,000. Under Bill Clinton, the number ranged between 142,000 and 78,000. Under George W. Bush, the most common figure was 70,000, while under Barack Obama, figures ranged from 70,000 to 85,000 until the last year of his presidency––on his way out, with kids at the border, the figure surged to 110,000.
What the last 6 presidents—three Republicans, three Democrats—have in common is settling on a significantly bigger number than the Trump administration announced this week as its new refugee maximum.
“Trump plans to cap the number of refugees that can be resettled in the United States next year at 30,000,” The New York Times reports, “further cutting an already drastically scaled-back program that offers protection to foreigners fleeing violence and persecution.” (Last year’s figure under Team Trump was 45,000 refugees, though that is misleading in that far fewer refugees were actually resettled in practice—according to a recent article in The Guardian, “With two weeks to go in the 2018 fiscal year, the US has admitted 20,918 refugees for resettlement – 46% of the current 45,000 refugee cap.”)