Brief #53—Immigration

Policy Summary
Following up on an Executive Order he made in September 2017, President Trump has signed a new order placing an even lower cap on immigration to the United States than ever before. Last fall, Trump signed an order lowering the number of refugees allowed into the United States to 45,000 – the lowest cap since 1980 under the Refugee Act. This was a 59% reduction from what Obama had set previously and completely blurs the line between refugees and migrants as the guidelines became a transactional ordeal. International relief groups consider the current refugee crisis to be the worst since World War I, yet the Trump Administration seeks to determine what migrants can contribute to the US rather than how the US can help. He claimed the goal should be to host refugees in nations as close to their homes as possible to eventually return them there – which is extremely problematic. However, even under this order the US still accepts more refugees than other countries.

Fast forward a year, and this September Trump seeks to lower the refugee cap to 30,000; an absolute record low. This has been slowly building up through various crackdowns on immigration to the US (both legal and illegal) if you recount the previous travel bans, events at the US Southern border and disregard for America’s history of providing asylum. Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State claimed that the US “must continue to responsibly vet applicants to prevent entry of those who might do harm to our country.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that the true goal of the Trump Administration is to essentially deconstruct the United States refugee program and limit immigration on all fronts; regardless of national security demands. A cap is just a cap, the Administration could accept far less than 30,000 – it is a ceiling not a floor. This drastically limits US diplomacy and lowers its image and morality on a global stage.

The Justice Department and White House ignored a report from intelligence agencies proving refugees do not pose a major threat to national security and continued to emphasize the need for extraordinary vetting measures.

Cutting the number of refugees and asylum seekers allowed into the US to what could be nothing, puts the Trump Administration on the path of regimes that America has historically tried to defeat.  Those who support the Trump administration policy are either xenophobic nationalists, or are fearful of opposing an authoritarian leader.

Additionally, the Trump Administration has increasingly blurred the lines between refugee/asylum seeker and migrant in the quest to eliminate total immigration to the United States. An asylum seeker is an individual who has crossed an international border into a country in which they hope to receive refugee status due to fear of persecution for political, social, religious, or race reasons. Whereas a migrant is someone who attempts to permanently relocate to a new country or place for various reasons including personal gain, upward economic mobility, etc. Through Trump’s attempts to lower the refugee cap he has sent a clear message to the vast number of asylum seekers displaced in the world that the US can no longer be considered a place of refuge.

Resistance Resources

  • The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law: a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to defend and reform – as necessary – the US systems of democracy and justice, focusing on upholding the Constitution and US laws while maintaining national security.
  • Stay up to date with the National Immigration Forum who advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to the US and promotes responsible immigration policies and addresses those that hinder the success of immigrants.
  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.

This Brief was authored by Kathryn Baron. For inquiries, suggestions or comments email

Photo by Martino Pietropoli

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