Dear Mr. President: 30,000 Refugees Is Not Enough

President Trump with some of the 30,000 people attending the White House Easter Egg Roll 2018

Dear Mr. President:

With only days to go in the fiscal year, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. for Fiscal Year 2018 is 20,918, less than half the 45,000 refugee admissions you authorized. Instead of trying harder in Fiscal Year 2019, your administration appears to be giving up, announcing that you will only authorize 30,000 admissions for the coming year.

In a world where over 25.4million people have been designated as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 30,000 is not enough. Even when we look at the number of refugees designated for resettlement — only 1.2 million — 30,000 is a fraction of a fraction of the need. It may help to put this figure into business terms, given your interest in the bottom line. How many is 30,000 people?

A lot less than the following:

95,000 Average annual Presidential Determination for Refugee Admissions since 1980

80,000 Average actual refugee admissions since 1980

75,175 Average attendance at a Redskinshome game

65,000 Number of people who saw Hamilton in Des Moinesthis summer

46,450 Rough average of rooms rented in 2017 in DC Trump Hotel

44,000 Average daily visitors to Disneyland

What is 30,000? Number of people expected to attend the 2018 White House Easter Egg Roll, based on ticket giveaways.

And while 30,000 people, many of them children, pouring over the White House lawn in a day might seem like a lot, your White House handled it with aplomb. I’ve seen the pictures — you were there. And I can’t imagine that the joy you saw in children’s faces, or the delight you saw as parents watched their children play, didn’t move you.

So, why is it so hard to understand that America has an obligation to give more parents and children the opportunity to live and play and worship in peace? None of the arguments offered by your Cabinet or your staff answer that question.

This isn’t about the ability to process a larger number of people — just two years ago, the U.S. admitted 84,989 refugees. Even in fiscal year 2017, your administration ultimately admitted 53,700 people. Something went wrong in the last two years, slowing down security checks and delaying the admissions of thousands of people who had no history or record of violence — many of them had already been approved for admission but had to go through security checks again for no clear reason. Others are family members of refugees previously admitted — refugees who are grateful to be in the U.S., contributing to their new country. Others are men and women who honorably served with the U.S. military as translators and in other roles, who are kept out of the country, even though the U.S. put them in danger. If you believe such people must go through even more security screenings, then provide the resources and personnel to do it, but don’t put those lives at risk.

Secretary Pompeo has suggested that I’m not looking at this right. After all, he says we need to think about our asylum cases and how the U.S. is responsible for providing protection to those seeking refuge here. Maybe this would be a plausible argument if we were actually trying to help the thousands of people fleeing violence and persecution, mostly from Central America, but we aren’t. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making it more difficult for people to make asylum claims, virtually ensuring that many people in genuine danger will not even get a chance to present their case to an immigration judge. Even before your administration, however, asylum grants were low — during fiscal year 2016, the U.S granted only 20,455 asylum applications.

Besides, our refugee and asylum programs are complementary, not competitive. Asylum is a form of protection available to people inside the United States; anyone has the right to apply for asylum under our laws and international treaty obligations. But the relatively small number of people crossing our border each year, and the even smaller number granted asylum, pales in comparison to the number of refugees in other parts of the world, and our refugee admissions program is designed, in part, to help alleviate the pressure on countries receiving millions, not thousands, of people crossing their borders. When we accept refugees into the United States, we are accepting a small, a miniscule, total of the people in need of a home. Even so, that number is comprised of only the most vulnerable people for whom returning to their own country is impossible. Most refugees are not even considered for resettlement.

A lot of numbers, I know. But let’s actually make it a lot of numbers. You, Mr. President, have the power to designate a much higher number of refugees for admission. Go back to the historic averages. There is little question that the capacity to resettle at least 75,000 refugees currently exists. And if you can’t do that, at least listen to those in your cabinet urging 45,000 admissions, which, if nothing else, fills Disneyland for a day.

Former DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Immigration Policy 2015–2017; immigration attorney and immigration policy analyst.

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