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Trump’s Assault on Refugees Is Even Worse Than It Looks

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As soon as he entered the White House, President Donald Trump tried to close the border, barring refugees and other migrants from entering the United States. Today, although the initial travel restrictions have eased, the systematic exclusion of refugees is intensifying.

The so-called Muslim ban, signed by Trump in January 2017, triggered a public outcry by barring entry to travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. But one of the more obscure, and enduring, provisions of the executive order affected the whole world: a blanket ban on refugee admissions, denying entry to all refugees for 120 days. Although various parts of the ban have lapsed or been thwarted in court challenges, the restrictions on refugee admissions have persisted; admissions have plummeted, while the vetting process has hardened under the pretext of “national security.” In early 2018, the administration announced that it was tightening the screening procedures for 11 countries, nearly all majority-Muslim—Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Advocates say that the combination of the 2017 travel ban and intensified “security” screenings has stalled the processing of refugee cases from these countries.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s annual ceiling for refugee resettlement went from 110,000 in fiscal year 2016 to just 45,000 in 2018 and 30,000 in 2019. Trump has now instituted the lowest ceiling since the refugee program was created in 1980. And in practice, the White House seems to be aiming even lower: Fewer than 22,000 refugees arrived in 2018—just half of what was allowed.

Earlier this year, hard-liners in the White House were reportedly debating whether to zero out the program altogether. But the administration recently announced that it had settled on a cap of 18,000—another historic low. (Several Democratic presidential candidates have vowed to restore and expand the refugee cap.)

The lowered refugee cap has hit some communities especially hard. According to Refugees International, refugees from Muslim-majority countries plummeted to 11 percent of the total admitted between October 2018 and July 2019, in contrast to nearly half of admissions in the final year of the Obama administration. During that period, fewer than 650 refugees arrived from three of the nations subjected to the Muslim ban—Syria, Somalia, and Yemen—even though they are facing some of world’s worst humanitarian crises. Under the lowered caps, admissions fell for all religious groups. In fiscal 2018, Christians fleeing persecution in the Middle East made up about 70 percent of new refugees, while Muslims, who had made up the majority of admitted refugees under Obama, fell to about 15 percent.

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