United States Resumes Refugee Admissions Halted by COVID-19
FAIR Take | August 2020
The United States resumed refugee admissions after a five-month pause due to concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic raging throughout the world. The United States became the global epicenter of the pandemic in late March, overtaking China, the source of the virus, in total cases. The State Department halted refugee admission on March 18 after the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations refugee agency jointly stated that international travel “could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.”
At the time of the announcement, the United States had taken in just over 6,000 refugees. The Trump administration set the refugee ceiling at 18,000 for the year. Unlike other levels of immigration, which Congress raises and lowers through legislation, the President has unilateral authority to raise and lower the refugee ceiling.
The Obama administration set refugee ceilings between 70,000 and 80,000 between 2009 and 2016. Nayla Rush with the Center for Immigration Studies dove into the admissions data and found that the Obama administration resettled refugees mostly in California, Texas, and New York over the course of their eight years in the White House. Most of the refugees came from Iraq and Myanmar (Burma). Rush found that “the Obama administration resettled more than 200,000 refugees during the first three years of each of its two terms.” Contrast this to the Trump administration, who has resettled about 80,000 refugees during his first three years in office, and whose refugee ceiling has never exceeded 50,000.
Even with the Trump administration’s quiet resumption of refugee admissions, it is unlikely that the U.S. will take in very many. The administration’s refugee ceiling is already low, having listened to experts in the field who argued that the United States could accomplish its humanitarian goals by reducing the refugee ceiling and focusing instead on projects to assist distressed people in their own countries and regions, greatly expanding the good that the United States can do when compared to the cost of refugee resettlement.