Read: The world’s refugee system is broken
“Extreme vetting” also requires applicants’ social-media accounts to be scrutinized by U.S. officials in agencies so understaffed and ill-equipped that the process drags on for years. Refugee numbers from majority-Muslim countries, such as survivors of the wars in Yemen, Syria, and Somalia, who face almost insuperably high barriers, have dwindled toward zero. Even the Iraqis and Afghans who risked their lives to aid the American war effort in their countries, and who have bipartisan supporters here, can’t get past this wall built to make people fail. Last year, of the several thousand available slots allotted by Congress for America’s Iraqi allies, just 4 percent were filled. Behind the numbers are human beings, in some cases separated for years from children, parents, or spouses already resettled in the U.S., waiting in limbo, in danger, in growing despair. The IRAP report calls Trump’s policy “death by a thousand cuts.” I would call it bureaucratic sadism.
Refugees, whose status is designated by the United Nations, comprise a fraction of the million or more immigrants who come here every year. For all his bluster, Trump has had trouble limiting immigration; perhaps that’s why his administration resorted to kidnapping children at the southern border. But the refugee program has the misfortune of being under the president’s clear authority. If Trump wanted to admit two refugees next year, he could find a way to do it. Immigration policy is inward-looking, driven by matters such as labor markets. But how we treat refugees is the face we choose to show the world. Heller of IRAP explained: “Do we want to have influence at the U.N. around prodemocracy issues? Do we want to have influence over specific human-rights atrocities like ethnic cleansing against Uighurs in China? It all boils down to whether or not the U.S. wants to have meaningful soft power as a force for good on the international stage.”
Given that Trump’s answer to these questions is no, why doesn’t he just shut the refugee program down? Perhaps because his evangelical supporters advocate for the resettlement of persecuted religious minorities, most of them Christians. Last year, 97 percent of those slots were filled. Like everything else in the Trump administration, the refugee program has been thoroughly politicized.
Refugees are among Trump’s favorite scapegoats. They’re his reelection campaign’s migrant caravan. After Joe Biden promised to raise the ceiling to 125,000 in his first year as president, higher than it was under Obama, Trump went after refugees last month at the start of a rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, a state that has resettled thousands of Somalis, including one of Trump’s prime targets, Representative Ilhan Omar. The president got a barely masked, COVID-spreading crowd of thousands stoked as they squeezed together at an airfield:
One of the most vital issues in this election is the subject of refugees. You know it. You know it perhaps better than almost anybody. Lots of luck. You having a good time with your refugees? … Every family in Minnesota needs to know about Sleepy Joe Biden’s extreme plan to flood your state with an influx of refugees from Somalia, from other places all over the planet. Well, that’s what’s happened, and you like Omar a lot, don’t you? Biden has promised a 700 percent increase in the manifesto with Bernie, right? A 700 percent increase in the importation of refugees from the most dangerous places in the world, including Yemen, Syria, and Somalia. Congratulations, Minnesota. A 700 percent increase. Good luck, Minnesota … Sleepy Joe will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp. Think of it. 700 percent increase. So you’re not happy now? … Biden will overwhelm your children’s schools, overcrowd their classrooms, and inundate your hospitals. That’s what’ll happen. Biden has even pledged to terminate our travel ban to jihadist regions, jihadist regions. They’ve already been doing that to you, haven’t they? Opening the floodgates to radical Islamic terrorists.
When I was covering the war in Iraq, I got to know a number of refugees. Some were displaced inside Iraq, others scattered to neighboring countries, waiting to be resettled in Europe or the U.S. I met them in crowded apartments where kids went without school and parents had no work. Months turned into years while they waited for an email or a letter from an international or American official. When one arrived, it usually contained byzantine language offering no clear resolution, only piling new demands on old ones that the family had met several times over—more employment history, another interview, another medical exam because the earlier one had expired during the wait.