The U.S. just shut the door on refugees

The number of refugee admissions hit 50,000, the annual cap set by the Trump administration.

Ali Said, of Somalia, center, is pushed by refugee caseworker Mohamed Yassin, behind, as he makes his way into an elevator with his two sons Thursday, July 6, 2017, in San Diego. CREDIT: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
Ali Said, of Somalia, center, is pushed by refugee caseworker Mohamed Yassin, behind, as he makes his way into an elevator with his two sons Thursday, July 6, 2017, in San Diego. CREDIT: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

The U.S. Department of State announced Wednesday that it had reached the annual cap on refugee admissions, with future arrivals facing an uphill battle to enter the country.

On Wednesday, the United States hit the annual cutoff of 50,000 refugee admissions for the fiscal year as set by the Trump administration in an executive order that set a low admission numbers cap and stopped refugee resettlement for 120 days.

Advertisement

“After we reach 50,000 refugee arrivals for FY2017, only those individuals who have a credible claim to a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States will be eligible for admission through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” a State Department spokeswoman told HuffPost.

In practical terms, this means refugees who have been approved after the months-long vetting process but are not in the United States by July 12, will see their flights cancelled.

President Donald Trump has promised on the campaign trail and into his presidency that he would restrict admission by refugees and immigrants. He fulfilled that promise — which he tied to claims of national security and terrorism concerns — when he signed an executive order restricting travel from six Muslim-majority countries and imposed a halt to refugee admissions once it hit 50,000 people in the 2017 fiscal year. Last year, the Obama administration said it would accept 110,000 refugees to respond to the growing global refugee crisis, including Central American children fleeing gang violence.

Advertisement

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed parts of Trump’s order to stand, upholding a provision that bars refugees from entering the country for 120 days unless they have a “bona fide relationship” with someone already in the United States. That relationship would exclude relatives like grandparents, aunts and uncles, and grandchildren.

The president has claimed that the vetting process for refugees isn’t stringent enough. But would-be refugees to the United States also undergo one of the most arduous screening process, which takes upwards of 24 months and requires background checks with various federal agencies. What’s more, refugees are more often victims of terrorism than its perpetrators.

Advocates are concerned that Trump’s executive order could come at a heavy cost for people living in vulnerable and volatile situations abroad.

“We’ve reached a low point in U.S. history today with the Trump administration setting and enforcing a refugee admission ceiling which is lower than it’s been in history,” HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield told ThinkProgress in a phone interview Wednesday.

HIAS, a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian assistance and aid to refugees, has long helped refugees resettle in the United States. Hetfield was immensely displeased that at least one HIAS client, who was approved as a refugee, will be unable to come in despite having a grandmother in the country. Others will also see their flight reservations cancelled.

Advertisement

“People who were scheduled to travel — and there were a few who don’t have the U.S. ties in the very narrow sense that the Trump administration has described, people who had been living as refugees for years and finally almost made it in — their flights are being cancelled.”

In the past, the largest number of refugees generally come in August or September, Hetfield said, pointing out that nearly 25,000 people are still somewhere in the refugee “pipeline” and are unable to enter the country this year.

“We’re at least grateful the Supreme Court prevented Trump from fully implementing his mean spirited executive order and that refugees will ties to US will continue to be admitted,” Hetfield said. “It’s an embarrassment for our country to be taking in so few refugees when the needs are so great.”

“We can’t forget that this is not about a number,” Kay Bellor, LIRS Vice President for Programs, said in a press statement, echoing Hetfield’s comments. “This is about saving lives.”

The United States has been one of the most generous financial providers of foreign aid and has accepted three million refugees since 1975. But the first-world country also has not shouldered the same international responsibility of taking in a greater number of refugees like other countries have, like Turkey which hosts 3.2 million refugees.