In-Depth: Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) introduced this resolution from the 115th Congress to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to protect refugees. After this resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on World Refugee Day (June 20, 2019), Rep. Lieu said in a press release:
“On World Refugee Day, we renew our commitment to showing compassion and support for those forced to flee their homes. Refugees are fleeing home because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. The United States resettlement program is critical to global humanitarian efforts. These efforts serve to strengthen global security, advance United States foreign policy goals, and support regional host countries while also serving individuals and families in need.”
When he introduced this resolution in the 115th Congress, Rep. Lieu said:
“Right now, the world faces the worst displacement crisis in history. As refugees flee violence and persecution in search of peace and freedom, they are faced with some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. Children are set back a generation without access to education, families are stuck in waiting, and countries that neighbor conflict zones struggle to accommodate for the sudden influx of people. As an immigrant and a Veteran, I know that protecting the most vulnerable people among us via the U.S. resettlement program and humanitarian assistance abroad promotes our core values and protects our national security interests. It is critical that we answer the growing protectionist attitudes throughout the world with a clear, bipartisan message that we stand #WithRefugees, regardless of their national origin or religion. On this World Refugee Day, I am proud to introduce legislation with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and over 60 of our House colleagues to reaffirm U.S. leadership in promoting the health, safety and well-being of refugees.”
This resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 74 bipartisan cosponsors, including 71 Democrats and three Republicans. Save the Children supports this resolution.
Of Note: As of March 31, 2019 — six months into FY2019 — State Dept. figures showed that 12,151 refugees had arrived in the U.S. by that point in the fiscal year. If that rate remains constant through FY2019, the total number of refugees admitted into the U.S. will be 19% below the 30,000 ceiling set by President Trump in September 2018. However, refugee groups say, this isn’t because people no longer want to come to the U.S. as refugees — instead, it’s because far fewer people have been able to gain admission under the Trump administration.
In fact, in 2018, the U.S. only resettled 22,000 refugees — just over a quarter of the number resettled in 2016 (85,000). Even the 2016 figure is a significant decrease from previous years. For example, in the 1980s, the U.S. regularly settled about 200,000 refugees a year.
Until the current administration, both Democratic and Republican administrations championed the refugee resettlement program. Now, for the first time in over 30 years, the U.S. is no longer the world leader in resettling refugees — instead, Canada has taken that position. Looking at America’s refugee resettlement rate per capita, the comparison is even worse: at three refugees per 1,000 citizens, the U.S. has one of the lowest per capita resettlement rates in the world.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 19.6 million refugees worldwide in 2017 — up from 9.9 million in 2012. In 2017, children under 18 years old represented 52% of the refugee population. Syria (6.3 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.4 million), Myanmar (1.2 million), and Somalia (986,400) were the top five countries of origin for refugees in 2017.
Global refugees numbers increased again in 2018. The United Nations High Commissioners on Refugees estimates that last year, there were more than 70.8 million displaced persons worldwide, including nearly 26 million refugees, over 41 million internally displaced persons, and 3.5 million people seeking asylum. On a daily basis, those figures work out to 37,000 people being displaced from their homes every day.
Every year, the president, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions each year. The State Dept. and Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) are the primary agencies responsible for assessing the viability of different refugee populations for admission, as well as U.S. government officials’ ability to process them. Historically, the average number of refugees allowed into the U.S. each fiscal year has been around 95,000. However, the Trump administration has set much lower numbers: when President Trump took office in January 2017, he lowered the FY2017 refugee admissions ceiling from 110,000 (set under the Obama administration) to 50,000. In FY2018, the Trump administration set the ceiling at 45,000; it again lowered the ceiling, this time to 30,000, for FY2019.
The Trump administration says its current cap of 30,000 refugees for FY2019 is in response to the overwhelming number of asylum seekers arriving at the southern border. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, “This year’s refugee ceiling reflects the substantial increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum in our country, contributing to a massive backlog of outstanding asylum cases and greater public expense.” Pompeo adds that the administration’s lowering of the refugee ceiling also reflects the need to balance refugees’ needs with U.S. security interests:
“This year’s refugee ceiling reflects our commitment to protect the most vulnerable around the world while prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of the American people as President Trump has directed. We must continue to responsibly vet applicants to prevent those who might do harm to our country.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / FatCamera)