By Emma Newgarden
National News Editor
Last weekend, amidst mounting tension over America’s policy on refugee acceptance, both internationally and across the country, the New York Times unveiled plans of a White House meeting called for the purpose of implementing further cutbacks in the U.S. refugee program. According to the Times, officials of the Trump administration would have convened in the Situation Room on Tuesday, September 10, to discuss the program’s status, and to finalize an annual cap.
With the meeting currently underway, speculation has begun to circulate concerning the predicted outcome. However, taking the Trump administration’s record of refugee program reduction as a strong precedent, few parties disagree on the assumption that it will involve heavy cuts. Since President Trump’s inauguration, the refugee admittance ceiling has been lowered from one-hundred-ten thousand during the Obama administration to thirty thousand. The only question now being asked, both internationally and across the country, is just how much further the number of allowed refugee admits will drop.
While cabinet officials have been tight-lipped regarding the specific options to be discussed, discussions leaked from other clandestine meetings over the past two weeks hint at two main options under consideration. The first involves a reduction to ten thousand refugees admitted to the US per year, coming only from select countries. Preference would be given to specific groups, including Iraqis and Afghans, as well as diplomats and intelligence agents abroad, whose work alongside American troops puts them at risk. This plan is largely attributed to Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, as a continuation of the shrinking agenda that he first spearheaded upon assuming the position. (Miller was also behind the aggressive refugee ceiling drop from 2017.)
The second plan, suggested by John Zadrozny, a leading official at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, is even more drastic, calling for a complete elimination of refugee admittance into the U.S. Refugees would be granted admission only on an individual basis in times of emergency as designated by the Executive branch. Either of these measures, if implemented, would put an end to the United States’ status as a world leader in refugee admissions.
The reasoning on the part of administrators in favor of such severe cuts is largely constituted in the notion that refugees’ tendency to be uneducated and have few skills makes them drains on the American economy. This corresponds with a broader ongoing directive of the Trump administration to lower the number of all kinds of immigrants entering the United States, including pursuing policies that favor immigrants who are able to financially support themselves.
However, backlash against the proposed cuts has been strong. On September 3 the White House received letters from retired military officers arguing that further reduction of the number of refugees allowed into the United States, even with special exceptions, could endanger American forces stationed overseas, undermine previous commitments to allies, and slow the reunification of those refugee families already partially re-settled. The center for refugee advocacy at Human Rights First has even suggested that other countries following suit and limiting their refugee cap could create conditions conducive to radicalization among outcast refugee groups, an extremely dangerous consequence for the United States.
The White House released no statements in response to these protests. Refugee advocacy groups have now begun lobbying Mark Esper, the new secretary of defense, to take up the role of his predecessor Jim Mattis as a pro-refugee intercessor. Esper’s position, however, is of yet unknown.
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