War & Peace

Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Be Free

Trump executive order cuts refugee numbers in half.

Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor Yearning to Be Free

Refugee in a camp in Eiritrea. (Photo by Samout3/ flickr CC 2.0)

June 20 was World Refugee Day and the UN Refugee Commission made headlines around the globe by announcing that the world is in its worst refugee crisis ever — surpassing the aftermath of World War II.

By the end of 2016 more than 65 million people had been displaced. Some 22.5 million people are classed as refugees from conflict and persecution — and half of those refugees are under the age of 18. The UNHCR statistics break it down to almost 20 people per minute. If you scroll down the UN’s table of figures you’ll see that only 189,300 refugees were resettled in 2016.

The president’s executive order travel bans have garnered a lot of attention — his reduction of the number of refugees less so. The United States has historically taken in a fixed number of refugees with that amount being set by the president. In the face of the growing refugee crisis President Obama raised the number from 70,000 to 110,000 from 2016 to 2017. (Germany accepted about 1 million refugees last year.) President Trump’s plan would lower the number to 50,000 — a number experts say we’ll reach this week. Advocacy groups fear that the new cap would leave little room for refugees who are fleeing gang violence in Central America and other global tragedies.

Refugee agencies have seen a sharp drop in numbers and some have even had to lay off staff. The Los Angeles Times reported recently on a Pew Research Center study that found that refugee entries had fallen in 46 of the 50 states. Another analysis by USA Today maps the decline and provides an interactive database showing refugee origins and destinations in an attempt to provide a corrective to some stereotypes about who is coming to the US and why.

Providing the facts on the US refugee population is also the mission of Rescue.org’s seven common myths about refugee resettlement in the United States. In a New York Times op-ed Georgette F. Bennett penned an impassioned plea for the US to keep up its commitments to earlier legislation like the Refugee Act of 1980. She cites a forthcoming Harvard study that says the downturn in the refugee quota “potentially violates international commitments and American laws.”

On the other side of the fence are pundits like Mark Krikorian, who as the head of the Center for Immigration Studies is in favor of the reduced numbers. He argues that federal funds are better spent on large-scale refugee relief abroad than the resettlement of a few in the United States.

The president’s executive order and the 50,000 cap is stalled in the courts, allowing the State Department to quietly lift restrictions in late May and announced in a letter to refugee organizations that they should prepare for an immediate increase in clients.

Read more installments in our series “While He Was Tweeting” — keeping an eye on Trump’s wrecking ball.