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Is the Trump Administration Trying to End All Refugee Immigration?

Certificate of US Citizenship, social security card, declaration of intention, and passenger manifest with red, white and blue ribbon
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 08, 2019

As the story goes, many of America's first immigrants were fleeing persecution in their home countries. The United States didn't pass its first immigration restrictions until almost 300 years later, after which some 50 million people had come into the country. Many of those first immigrants were refugees.

However, restrictions on refugee immigration under the Trump administration have been increasing, and the number of refugees that are legally allowed to enter the U.S. has steadily been declining.

Last week, Buzzfeed reported that President Donald Trump intends to cap the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. next year to an all-time low of 18,000, and the White House issued an Executive Order that would allow state and local officials to effectively ban refugee resettlement within their borders.

And the Trump administration is reportedly "weighing whether to cut the number of refugees to zero next year." Can they do it?

Broad Discretion

"I have consulted with the Secretary of State," Trump's Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement reads, "and determined that, with limited exceptions, the Federal Government, as an exercise of its broad discretion concerning refugee placement accorded to it by the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act, should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program (Program)."

And what if those jurisdictions do not actively consent, "in writing," to receive refugees? Then "refugees should not be resettled within that State or locality," according to the order. While there may be some exceptions under current resettlement law, the executive order places inordinate power in states, cities, and counties to ban refugee resettlement entirely.

(It should be noted that when then-Indiana Governor and now-Vice President Mike Pence attempted a similar refugee ban in his state, it did not fare so well in federal court. And this executive order may see its own legal challenges.)

Narrow(ing) Entry Points

As reported by Buzzfeed, the administration's intended cap of 18,000 refugees is just over half last year's number of 30,000, and "a significant reduction from previous years, and far fewer than the 110,000 allowed in the final year of the Obama administration." Additionally, the policy does not guarantee that immigration officials will actually admit that many refugees, only that no more than that number will be allowed to legally enter the country next year. That's in response to "a backlog of asylum cases that has soared above 1 million."

Coupled with the White House's executive order, even if 18,000 refugees are admitted into the United States, they may have no place to go. “For all of their talk about how fine they are with legal immigration," John Oliver pointed out in his segment on migrants and refugees last week, "this administration has worked hard to reduce it as much as possible across the board."

Legal immigration, especially when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, is incredibly complicated. For the best answers to all of your immigration questions, consult an experienced, local attorney.

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