Trump administration has still not said how many refugees may be admitted to US next year
Posted September 28, 2020 4:52 p.m. EDT
CNN — The Trump administration hasn't announced how many refugees could be admitted to the United States in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins this week, signaling yet another delay and likely leaving thousands of those seeking refuge in limbo again.
Under President Donald Trump the administration has slowly chipped away at the refugee cap, which dictates how many may come to the United States. The US had been already on course during the 2020 fiscal year to admit the lowest level of refugees since 1980 when the coronavirus pandemic hit and led to a pause in arrivals until late July.
Now, just days before the start of the next fiscal year, the administration has stayed mum on what the next cap might be -- a move reminiscent of last year, when an announcement was made shortly before the fiscal year began on Oct. 1 and the final sign-off by the President came in November.
Without a presidential determination, as it's known, refugees cannot be resettled in the US, with some exceptions.
"This administration has never administered this program in good faith," said Danielle Grigsby, director of policy and practice at Refugee Council USA. "And yet again, we have another fiscal year coming to a close and we've not come anywhere near hitting any of the regional ceilings, the ceiling goals. It seems par for the course again."
Only a little more than 9,000 refugees had been admitted to the US as of August 31, according to the Refugee Processing Center. That's half of the refugee ceiling -- 18,000 -- set late last year.
Each year, the administration sets a cap for how many refugees may be admitted to the US. Historically, the number of admissions has fluctuated according to world events, though it's generally been high. From fiscal years 1990 to 1995, for example, many refugees arriving in the US were from the former Soviet Union, according to the Pew Research Center.
In the last few years of the Obama presidency, the administration moved toward increasingly high caps, up to 110,000 in fiscal year 2017 amid the Syrian crisis. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, has pledged to restore high levels of refugee admissions if elected, setting an annual target of 125,000.
When asked about the upcoming refugee ceiling, a State Department spokesperson declined to comment on internal deliberations.
"The overall refugee admissions ceiling and allocations are the President's decision, following appropriate consultations with Congress, based on the advice of relevant agencies," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We do not comment on the internal discussions or the timeline related to its development."
The refugee cap is discussed among several departments and agencies, and eventually approved by the President. Consultation with Congress over the cap is also required by law.
Democratic leaders on the House and Senate judiciary committees sent a letter to the Trump administration in early September, urging officials to "engage in meaningful consultations with Congress" before setting the next fiscal year refugee cap.
"We are in the midst of the worst refugee crisis in history," reads the letter from Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California, along with Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California, citing in part the pandemic.
There's often a moratorium on arrivals the first few days of October, but last year that moratorium extended into the fall. The same thing could happen this year if a presidential determination is not made soon.
"At the start of every fiscal year, there is a pause in resettlement travel for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program," the State Department spokesperson said, regarding the moratorium. "Our implementing partners are notified and we coordinate closely with them to resume travel once the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions is signed for that fiscal year."
The persistent delays continue to fuel uncertainty among refugee resettlement organizations.
"It very well could be the last, final blow to the program, as we've been treading water the last few years," said Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service, one of the nine resettlement agencies. "If there's a whole month without resettlement, that alone is really detrimental to the program."