What has ended, or at least nearly so, is America’s granting admission to Syrian refugees for resettlement in the United States. In the past five months to the end of March—the most recent date for which State Department data are available— the U.S. admitted 44 Syrian refugees; over the same period a year ago, the U.S. admitted 6,000 Syrians. But since November, when the Trump administration imposed stricter screening protocols for Syrian refugees, the numbers being admitted to the U.S. have declined sharply: 11 refugees were allowed in from January 1 to March 31 (none were permitted entry in November and December).
When asked about the decline on Fox News Sunday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said that when she talked to refugees in camps in Jordan and Turkey, “not one of the many that I talked to ever said we want to go to America. They want to stay as close to Syria as they can so that when, God willing, this fighting stops and when there is finally stability and peace in that area, they want to go rejoin their family members.” But absent a clear path to bringing stability to Syria, it is unclear when—or even if—these refugees will ever go home.
Meanwhile the Trump administration’s broader policy on refugee intake means few of them will end up in the United States. Last fall, the Trump administration set the refugee cap—the maximum number of refugees to be admitted into the U.S.— at 45,000. That figure, as I wrote at the time, was the lowest refugee cap announced since President Reagan signed the Refugee Act in 1980. Since then, U.S. presidents have, on average, set a ceiling of 95,000 refugees per fiscal year. As I noted at the time, there’s no requirement to meet the set maximum.
[T]he U.S. can also choose to admit a number far lower than the cap, as occurred immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001. For the subsequent several years thereafter, the numbers of refugees admitted into the U.S. fell sharply despite the cap remaining unchanged. The goal of refugee resettlement groups once the new cap is announced, those I spoke to said, would be to push the administration to make sure that the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. is as close to the ceiling as possible.
That now looks almost impossible. The low numbers of Syrian refugees being admitted into the U.S. corresponds with the overall decline in the number of refugees being granted admission. At the current rate, the U.S. will have admitted about 20,000 refugees by the end of this fiscal year, September 30, 2018.
“Anyone who tells you that this administration is always incompetent, they’ve got another think coming,” David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told me in a recent interview. “They are not being incompetent about this.”
While a presidential candidate, Trump said he wouldn’t accept Syrian refugees at all; one of his first acts upon becoming president was to ban the entry to the U.S. of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and suspend the program that allows refugees into the country. (Those decisions were challenged to varying degrees of success in courts.) Ultimately, the administration put in place more stringent screening protocols for Syrians, and people from 10 other countries, to come to the U.S.