The U.S. is on track to resettle an exceptionally small number of refugees this fiscal year, with some advocates projecting the total will fall 19 percent below President Donald Trump’s already historically low quota.
Last year, Trump capped refugee admissions at 30,000 for fiscal year 2019 ― the lowest ceiling a president has placed on the resettlement program since it was created in 1980. Six months after the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, State Department statistics suggest that a little over 12,000 refugees have arrived in the U.S.
If admissions continue at the same pace, it’s likely that the U.S. will only welcome around 24,400 refugees this fiscal year, according to estimates from World Relief, an evangelical Christian organization that is one of nine voluntary agencies helping the government resettle refugees.
This would be a 71 percent drop from fiscal year 2016, when the U.S. welcomed 84,944 refugees, World Relief stated.
World Relief claims the U.S. is “systematically dismantling” the refugee resettlement program, which it says has been effective at integrating refugees for decades. The organization urged the government to reach Trump’s 30,000 refugee cap this fiscal year and raise the ceiling to 75,000 the next year.
“The number of refugees the U.S. is projected to resettle in FY 2019 does not reflect the capacity or willingness of Americans to receive and resettle refugees,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement. “We are gravely concerned that the U.S. has abdicated its role in exemplifying the moral leadership needed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable displaced around the world.”
HIAS, a Jewish organization that helps resettle refugees, told HuffPost that it was “deeply disappointed” by the historically low number of refugees admitted to the U.S. so far this fiscal year. Naomi Steinberg, the organization’s vice president of policy and advocacy, suggested that these policies have caused harm to refugees fleeing persecution and tarnished America’s reputation.
“For each refugee who isn’t resettled there is a real human consequence: a life is in jeopardy, family remains separated, a child cannot start their education,” she said. “In addition to the human consequences, the United States’ global leadership is eroding.”
HuffPost has reached out to the State Department for comment.
Trump has made overhauling refugee admissions a key priority. During his first week in office, he issued an executive order temporarily suspending the refugee resettlement program, a decision that was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even though those restrictions are no longer in place, refugee resettlement groups claim the Trump administration has been using unnecessary bureaucratic procedures to delay admissions.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told HuffPost that as of Tuesday, her organization has welcomed 1,514 refugees this fiscal year. At this time last year, they had received 2,329 refugees. The year before that, the number was 6,909.
Vignarajah said refugee admissions are shrinking in the U.S. because of an increase in vetting procedures overseas, which has led to “unduly long wait times” for application processing.
“These children and families have [witnessed] unspeakable violence; they’ve made harrowing journeys to flee war zones to find a place of hope and peace,” Vignarajah, a former refugee herself, told HuffPost. “The U.S. has always served as a beacon of hope for people seeking refuge. Yet in recent years, U.S. leadership has abdicated its role as a champion for this dire humanitarian crisis, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk in the process.”
Although refugees of all faiths have been impacted by the Trump administration’s policies, LIRS said that Muslims have been “disproportionately targeted.”
The number of Muslim refugee arrivals has dropped dramatically during Trump’s time in the White House, according to the Pew Research Center, even though many of the world’s refugees come from Muslim-majority countries.
If admissions continue at the same pace this fiscal year, World Relief estimates that Muslim refugee arrivals will drop by about 90 percent, compared to fiscal year 2016.
“While overturned on principle, the travel ban on majority Muslim countries has remained in effect, bolstered by extreme vetting procedures and bureaucratic red tape,” Vignarajah said.
And even though Trump previously promised his evangelical supporters that Christian refugees would be prioritized, Christians have not been immune to the cuts. If the current pace continues, Christian arrivals will drop about 47 percent this fiscal year, compared to fiscal year 2016.
The Trump administration’s cuts to the refugee program are happening even as the UNHCR claims it is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. About 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes, including nearly 25.4 million refugees. Over half of these refugees are children.
“It is shameful to think that America, the land of the free, has effectively turned its back on individuals fleeing persecution and violence,” Vignarajah said.