RCUSA Responds to News That Administration May Zero Out Refugee Program in 2020

Refugee Council USA, a coalition of organizations committed to refugee resettlement and protection, is appalled by a recent Politico article that states Administration officials have proposed resettling zero refugees in Fiscal Year 2020. The Administration has already taken major steps to dismantle the resettlement program, as documented in RCUSA’s recent report, including by setting historically low refugee admissions levels – 45,000 in FY18 which they did not even meet by half, and 30,000 in FY19, of which 21,604 refugees have been admitted so far this year.

This news comes as the administration has announced a new interim final rule that drastically undermines access to asylum by blocking access to protection, with very limited exceptions, to any refugee who traveled through another country (that is party to the Refugee Convention) while en route to the United States southern border.  This rule signals the administration’s intent to attempt to block practically all refugees from accessing protection in the U.S.

The annual refugee admission goal has averaged 95,000 annually over the nearly 40year history of the program.   There is no legitimate reason why this administration cannot set, and meet, that goal again now—as it should, given the unprecedented global refugee crisis we are currently facing. RCUSA will host a press briefing phone call with Policy Experts to discuss the dire implications of shutting down the refugee resettlement program tomorrow, July 19th at 1:00pm EST.

“The Administration has all but confirmed that our country will reach the 30,000 refugee admission goal for FY2019,” noted Bill Canny, RCUSA Chair, and Executive Director for the Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We have been relieved by that important sign of the program getting back on track after a couple of extremely difficult years. In light of that hopeful sign, reports of further reducing the refugee goal to zero make no sense at all. There continue to be refugees who need the protection that resettlement provides, including refugees who are fleeing religious persecution. Faith based communities and volunteers across the U.S. have the desire, capacity, and resources to return to at least our historically normal level of welcoming refugees.”

While officials are reportedly attempting to justify a zero-refugee admissions ceiling with the transfer of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials who interview refugees to the U.S. southern border, the administration’s move to bar access to asylum invalidates this argument. Furthermore, data shows that as of July 2, 2019, 8,819 refugees were approved for travel to the United States, and 29,362 refugees had passed their DHS interviews. Despite the progress this year on meeting the FY2019 refugee goal and the large number already interviewed to arrive in FY2020, there is still news that some in the Administration are calling to zero out the resettlement program.

“This news is beyond disturbing,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President & CEO of Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service. “It will have a devastating impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations, including refugees who we have promised to protect and who have already been approved for resettlement to the United States. It means closing the golden door entirely to refugees at a time of unprecedented need and will cause long-term damage to a legacy of welcoming refugees that has always had bipartisan support. Let’s not forget that we resettled the most refugees under President Reagan.”

“The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and the U.S. asylum system have existed and operated in tandem for decades,” said Emily Gray, Senior Vice President of U.S. Ministries at World Relief.  “While the administration is trying to pit one against the other to justify their anti-immigrant ideology, there is no reason why we must close our doors to religious minorities, Iraqis who served alongside U.S. troops, and other refugees who we have promised safety simply because people are seeking asylum at our borders. Especially since the administration is deporting the vast majority of asylum seekers, it is baffling that they would attempt to justify the elimination of refugee resettlement due to the mere presence of asylum seekers.”

Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, observed: “This week, the Trump Administration hosts the largest international conference ever on international religious freedom, just as it considers the smallest refugee ceiling ever. This week also marks the 61st anniversary of the notorious Evian Conference, when the US convened 32 countries which condemned Nazi persecution of Jews but failed to take any action to offer them refuge. I am afraid that Secretary of State Pompeo’s Ministerial on Religious Freedom is nothing but another Evian – words but no welcome for those who flee persecution.”

Abandoning its lead role, indeed any role, in refugee resettlement, the US would:

  • Lose credibility and influence as a moral and foreign policy leader in situations of forced displacement around the globe.

  • Leave in harm’s way refugees who need resettlement, including Christians and others fleeing religious persecution, as well as Iraqis who helped the U.S. mission in Iraq.

  • Leave families stranded, separated, and scarred, with thousands of refugees in mid-process and diminishing hope of reuniting with loved ones.

  • Be deprived of the contributions — intellectual and creative, economic and political — of tens of thousands of newcomers to the U.S. each year.

  • Lose institutional memory of program expertise and experience of this highly successful federal program, that has been a model public/private partnership for nearly 40 years.

For more information or to register for the media briefing press call email media@cwsglobal.org.