The Year The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled : Parallels Migrant rights advocates warn that President Trump's attempts to shut down the refugee resettlement program will have long-term consequences.
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The Year The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled

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The Year The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled

The Year The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It is pretty likely that the United States will take in far fewer refugees this year. That's because the Trump administration last year issued a series of orders to limit refugee admissions, especially from mostly-Muslim countries. It ended up placing the lowest cap on resettlement since 1980. NPR's Deborah Amos covers refugees and is with us now to talk about what is ahead for 2018. Welcome.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hi.

MCEVERS: First, just for context, President Trump campaigned on this promise to make it harder for people, especially Muslims, to come to the U.S. What has happened with refugees in his first year in office?

AMOS: Let me give you the official number of refugees admitted in the fiscal year 2017 that ends in October - it was 53,716. And that reflects both Obama and Trump-era policies, but you can already see Trump's impact. So the number's down from Obama's 85,000 a year earlier. And refugee advocates say this is the year the Trump administration tried to unravel the Refugee Resettlement Program, and it's part of this larger assault on immigration. The president framed this as a security issue. He claimed that refugees are a threat. And, you know, in his first week as president, he suspended the refugee program. He issued a visa ban for Muslim-majority countries. Now, he ran into opposition in the courts, and that kept the pipeline relatively open through the year.

MCEVERS: So after all these countless court hearings and rulings, what did the administration plan for refugees coming to the United States in 2018?

AMOS: So now, President Trump gets to set the cap and he sets it at 45,000. That's the lowest since 1980. But almost everybody who is looking at this says that number will surely be lower than 45,000.

MCEVERS: Why?

AMOS: Because of the legal challenges, because of the increased vetting. For example, a refugee applicant has to supply the names of every close relative and the contact information going back 10 years. Now, think about how hard that is.

MCEVERS: Wow.

AMOS: You've run out of a war zone. You're in a refugee camp. Do you know where all of your relatives are? A lot of people are going to have trouble with that. Plus, the private agencies that resettle refugees, they are facing dramatic budget cuts. There are staff cutbacks. Dozens of resettlement offices are going to close early next year.

MCEVERS: So does that mean the issue's settled now, I mean, the U.S. is just going to bring in fewer people in 2018?

AMOS: It's not settled. I'm going to introduce you, Kelly, to two people on the front lines of the fight. First, meet Ed Martin.

ED MARTIN: The conversation is going in a direction that I think is helpful, you know, it's encouraging.

AMOS: Now, Ed is a Trump supporter. He heads the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles. That's a conservative interest group in St. Louis. He says cuts to immigration and the refugee numbers are a key demand of Trump's base and that is because of jobs, they say, and security.

MARTIN: The immigration problem is real. And if the immigration problem is not addressed, you know, that's the one thing I think he can't do to his base is betray them on immigration. That would be a really big deal.

MCEVERS: We know this is important for Trump's base but what about the other side? Is there a lobby for refugee resettlement?

AMOS: There is, first of all, at the Defense Department because they care about translators from Afghanistan and Iraq that worked with the military and even in the National Security Council. There are proponents in Congress on both sides of the aisle. And there are activists. One is Becca Heller. She is with the International Refugee Assistance Program in New York.

BECCA HELLER: I mean, they've taken every possible step essentially to dismantle the program.

AMOS: Heller and IRAP have challenged administration policy in court. And the latest, December 23, a Seattle court reversed a temporary ban on refugees from 11 mostly-Muslim-majority countries. So the refugee pipeline is open again.

HELLER: We're in, like, a pitched battle for the continued existence of U.S. refugee resettlement. And the numbers are going to be low for the next few years. And it's our job to try to keep them as high as we can and then assume that we'll have a rebuilding period.

AMOS: Now, Becca Heller says that this fight is going to continue into 2018.

MCEVERS: NPR's Deborah Amos. Thank you very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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