the background

The United States is a nation of immigrants and refugees. For centuries, people fleeing violence and persecution have come to America because it stands as a beacon of freedom and hope to the world. Ronald Reagan communicated powerfully during his presidential campaign the benefits of being a welcoming country: “They brought with them courage, ambition and the values of family, neighborhood, work, peace and freedom. We all came from different lands but we shared the same values, the same dream.”

Historically the U.S. has been one of the largest refugee resettlement countries in the world. To be considered for refugee resettlement, an individual must first be deemed eligible and then vetted by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Refugees selected by the UNHCR do not get to choose which country they will resettle, and the U.S. generally prioritizes women and children. Refugee candidates for resettlement in the United States are then subject to additional screening by seventeen United States government agencies. The screening process takes an average of two years.

 The Trump Administration has taken several actions that have made it more difficult for refugees to be resettled in the United States. First, President Trump issued his travel ban – also known as the Muslim Ban – on January 27, 2017. Executive Order 13769 barred citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, halted the admission of all refugees for 120 days, and ended the admittance of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The ban sparked near-immediate backlash, with thousands gathering to protest across the country. When the ban was challenged in court, the Trump Administration replaced EO 13769 with EO 13780, which President Trump called a “watered down, politically correct version" of the prior executive order. Currently, Presidential Proclamation 9,645 indefinitely bars travelers, immigrants, and refugees from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, and some government officials from Venezuela from the United States. The ban established a waiver process, whereby individuals who are barred from travel can seek an exception to the ban. However, these waivers have rarely been granted, and the Administration has not established a transparent process for obtaining a waiver.

The Latest

The State Department announced in January that as of March 31, just 12,151 refugees had arrived in the United States. March 31 marks six months into the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, meaning the Trump administration has already fallen behind the pace of resettlement that would allow them to the hit the historically-low ceiling of 30,000.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. government officials have begun turning away legal asylum seekers at official land crossings in violation of international law. The Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, announced during the battle over border wall funding in December 2018, requires asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as they await their court hearings. This policy was first applied at the San Diego/Tijuana border crossing and in March 2019 and was later expanded to the El Paso border crossing.

These rising immigration numbers, specifically from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala led President Trump to call to end all aid to those countries in April 2019. The money allocated to Central America, $2.1 billion in 2016, went to fight the root causes of immigration; experts say this move to cut off aid will only exacerbate the migrant crisis at the southern border.  

In September 2019—following a summer in which the United Nations reported record-highs of globally displaced people—the State Department announced President Trump’s decision to cut America’s refugee program nearly in half. Under the new cap, the administration said it would accept just 18,000 refugees over the next year. This figure is only the latest in a series of reductions. In September 2018, the Trump Administration announced it would accept no more than 30,000 refugees for FY2019, down from 45,000 the year prior. At the time, these numbers were their own historic lows. For comparison, President Obama recommended that 110,000 be allowed into the United States in 2016. Despite bipartisan support for a higher refugee resettlement cap, President Trump approved the 18,000-person limit in November 2019.


We live in a time of global humanitarian crisis, with 68.5 million people — including 25.4 million refugees — forced from their homes by war, violence, economic deprivation, and climate change. But instead of leading the world to meet this challenge, the current administration has undermined global diplomatic efforts and all but barred refugees fleeing war-torn societies in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. 

Congress can take action to protect America’s long tradition of welcoming refugees. Call your Senators and Representative at (202)-224-3121 urge them to support legislation that would raise the cap on refugees, end the Muslim ban, and halt the Trump Administration’s illegal actions at the U.S.-Mexico border. Be sure to mention:

  • The world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Now is not the time for the United States to turn our backs on refugees, but to lead the world in responding to the most vulnerable and welcoming survivors of conflict and persecution.

  • Support S. 246/H. R. 810, legislation that would block the implementation of President Trump’s xenophobic Muslim Ban and once again allow Muslim refugees to come to the United States.

  • Support the GRACE Act, S. 1080/H. R. 2146, legislation that would set a floor for the minimum number of refugees that the United States could accept in a year at 95,000.