The Trump administration has reduced the refugee cap to 30,000 annually, the lowest total since President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980. Former President Obama set the refugee ceiling at 110,000, and in 2016 accepted 85,000.
Since his inauguration, President Trump has taken a more cautious refugee stance, focusing on national security threats and the need for more rigorous vetting. After initial court-imposed setbacks on the administration’s travel restrictions for certain Middle Eastern countries, the Supreme Court eventually upheld his travel ban on Iranian, Libyan, North Korean, Somalian, Syrian and Venezuelan nationals.
In addition to President Trump’s oft-stated concerns, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out that more refugees would add to the already overwhelming 800,000 backlogged cases, and make it more difficult to efficiently deal with “the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country.”
Nevertheless, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and 50 of his congressional pro-refugee advocate colleagues introduced House Resolution 1073to void President Trump’s 30,000 refugee cap, and replace it with President Obama’s 110,000 figure. Ellison, however, is dreaming. The U.S. president is the sole authority on refugee admissions.
Still, the refugee program desperately needs dramatic changes, and until an overhaul occurs, resettling more migrants – like Ellison’s suggested 110,000 – would compound decades of mistakes, and allow rampant fraud to carry on unchecked.
Earlier this year Mary Doetsch, a recently retired 25-year State Department official with U.S. Refugee Admissions Program experience, wrote that during her eight years as a refugee coordinator she encountered “alarming” incidents of “pervasive fraud.”
Doetsch in a commentary wrote that while resettlement began as a humanitarian mission funded by private charities, civic groups, and faith-based organizations, they have become large, financially motivated business, expanding rapidly at the American public’s expense. Follow the money: senior resettlement agencies’ management earns between $260,000and $700,000annually – nice work for the lucky few who can get it.
Doubters who may think that Doetsch has an ax to grind should double check with the Department of Homeland Security. DHS officials are on record in an internal memo as having said that refugee fraud is easily committed, but difficult to investigate. The memo also noted that “bad actors…have exploited this program,” and thereby get into the U.S. through fraudulent refugee claims.
No prudent government should allow the existing resettlement program to continue unchecked. The goal should be to resettle refugees safely and securely close to their home countries so they can return home at the earliest opportunity. Studies show that for what it costs to resettle one Middle Eastern refugee in the United States for five years, about 12 refugees can be helped for five years, or 61 refugees can be aided for one year closer to home.
Instead of adopting policies that help the refugees abroad and put them on a path to return home, the U.S. has for decades invited in thousands of refugees and given them affirmative benefits including work authorization documents which allow them to compete with vulnerable Americans for good jobs. Among the refugee employers are Starbucks, Chobani, Walmart, Tyson Foods, Hilton and Marriott.
Although the Trump administration has come under withering criticism for cutting refugee intake and has been condemned for indifference to global suffering, Secretary Pompeo pledged that the U.S. will continue to be, as it has for decades, the world’s most generous nation on immigration matters.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at