USA Today Reports Apparent Slowdown in Refugee Admissions

Written by Alexander J. Segal on

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On May 8, 2017, Alan Gomez of USA Today reported that refugee admissions have “dropped sharply” in March and April.1 According to the report, the United States admitted 2,070 refugees in March, which represented the lowest total since 2013, and 3,316 refugees in April, which was the second lowest total since 2013.

Refugee admissions have been a subject of scrutiny since President Donald Trump took office on January 20, 2017. Last October, the Obama Administration set the refugee admissions cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000. This represented a stark increase from previous years. USA Today reports that since October 1, 2016, the beginning of fiscal year 2017, the United States has already admitted 42,000 refugees.

Refugee admission

On January 27, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13769, which both sought to suspend refugee travel for 120 days and to reduce the fiscal year 2017 refugee admissions cap from 110,000 to 50,000. After this Executive Order ran into legal difficulties, President Trump replaced it with Executive Order 13780 on March 6, 2017. The March 6 Executive Order also suspended refugee travel for 120 days and reduced the fiscal year 2017 cap to 50,000, but made modifications as to the nature of the suspension. We discuss the suspended provisions of Executive Order 13780 as pertaining to refugee travel on site [see article]. Shortly before Executive Order 13780 took effect, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii blocked implementation of its provisions pertaining to refugees [see article]. This means that both the provisions relating to refugee travel and the refugee cap are not in effect. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear an appeal of this decision on May 15, 2017 [see blog].

On May 4, 2017, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) reported that 17 United States Senators2 had sent an inquiry to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly regarding the apparent slowdown in refugee admissions.3 In general, the letter asks for more information as to the current state of refugee processing.

Any slowdown in refugee admissions will be controversial due to the debate over President Trump's policies and the ensuing court order from the Hawaii District Judge. For example, although the Senate letter does not take a specific position on the issue, it poses questions to the Trump Administration “[g]iven that there is currently no active provision from either of [the Executive Orders pertaining to refugees] affecting normal USRAP administration…”

There has not yet been any comment from the Trump Administration on refugee admissions. It is important to note that the court order blocking parts of President Trump's March 6 Executive Order does not in itself force the Trump Administration to conduct admissions in a certain way or at a particular pace. Rather, it prevents President Trump from changing the fiscal year 2017 refugee admissions cap or from suspending refugee admissions entirely so long as the order is in effect. Whether to admit any particular refugee and interview scheduling is at the discretion of the executive branch. Nevertheless, the Trump Administration should provide a response to the Senate letter in order to give the public and stakeholders a clear idea of what its current policies are pertaining to the refugee admissions program and whether the relatively low admissions numbers will continue over the coming months.

We will update the website with more information on this issue and all issues pertaining to the ongoing litigation over President Trump's March 6 Executive Order as it becomes available.

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  1. Gomez, Alan. “Refugee admissions to U.S. plummet under Trump: USA TODAY study finds fewer make it in.” USA Today. May 8, 2017. 2017 WLNR 14206409
  2. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire); James Lankford (R-Oklahoma); Corey Booker (D-New Jersey); Jeff Flake (R-Arizona); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Mike Lee (R-Utah); Thomas Carper (D-Delaware); Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Dick Durbin (D-Illinois); Marco Rubio (R-Florida); Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York); Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina); Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts); Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon); Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut); Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts); and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).
  3. AILA Doc. No. 17050800. May 4, 2017