The Trump administration wants the US to admit zero refugees next year

"Zero will never be an acceptable number for any country [...]."

The Trump administration wants the US to admit zero refugees next year
The Trump administration wants the US to admit zero refugees next year, severely hampering future admissions. (Photo credit: PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration is set to propose slashing refugee admissions to zero next year, according to sources familiar with the plans who spoke to Politico on Friday.

The news comes days after the administration implemented an interim final rule that would all but end asylum in the United States for Central Americans and dozens of other countries.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official “closely aligned” with White House adviser Stephen Miller suggested at a meeting on refugee admissions last week that the cap should be set at zero, Politico reported. Other officials at the Department of Homeland Security suggested a cap of “anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000.”

Since President Donald Trump entered office, U.S. refugee levels have been dropping at an alarming rate. This year alone, Politico noted, the administration cut refugee admissions by a third to just 30,000, the lowest refugee admissions goal in the history of the program.

Previously, the United States accepted around 95,000 refugees per year since 1980.

“The United States used to be a leader in providing refuge to those in need, all around the world. We can’t say that anymore,” Ryan Mace, grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist for Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.


Amnesty International is calling for the United States to return to previous levels and admit at least 95,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2020. “It is beyond shameful and a new low, even for this administration, to even consider accepting no refugees to the U.S.,” Mace said.

“People are in need all over the world – families, children, human beings with unique stories and lives on hold,” he added. “Zero will never be an acceptable number for any country let alone a country with so many resources and people willing to welcome new neighbors looking to rebuild their lives in peace and safety.”

Ending refugee admissions, which is what slashing the cap to zero would effectively do, would severely limit the ability of the United States to process refugees moving forward. The reduction of resources that would occur should the administration decide it doesn’t want to admit a single refugee next fiscal year would undoubtedly impact the nation’s ability to admit future refugees long after Donald Trump leaves office.

“In the long-term, it would mean that the capacity and the ability of the United States to resettle refugees would be completely decimated,” Jen Smyers, a director with Church World Service, told Politico.

Church World Service is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the United States.

The decision to slash admissions to zero would also have disastrous implications for thousands still stuck in the middle of the lengthy application process. According to refugee advocacy groups, 100,000 Iraqi nationals remain in the queue for admission to the United States. Another 29,000 have already completed an interview with USCIS.

Many of the Iraqi nationals waiting for refugee status worked as translators for the U.S. military. Former defense secretary Jim Mattis expressed concern in a letter sent last September to national security adviser John Bolton that those nationals would now be forced to remain in dangerous situations in their home country.


“Numerous Iraqi nationals have risked their own lives and their families’ lives by aligning with our diplomats and warfighters providing essential mission support. We owe them support for their commitment,” he wrote.

Mattis suggested keeping the admissions ceiling at around 45,000. “A failure to honor our commitments to those who have supported the U.S. in combat would undermine our diplomatic and military efforts abroad to protect the Homeland and support key aspects of the President’s national security strategy by making it more difficult to sustain the support of partners elsewhere,” he added.

In spite of this, the United States has only admitted 140 Iraqi nationals this year.

The agency officials who proposed the dramatic cut in refugee admissions argue it is necessary for “security” concerns, but multiple studies have shown that admitting refugees has never posed a national security risk to the United States. That officials aligned with Miller — who once allegedly said that he would “be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil” — are the ones pushing this isn’t surprising and shows the extent to which members of his administration hold xenophobic views that play well with the Trump base.

If the president ultimately decides to cap refugee admissions at zero next year, it would also give him leverage to claim he is making good on his campaign promise to take action on immigration.

All of this comes as Trump and his supporters launch repeated racist attacks on four congresswomen of color — including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who is herself a Somali refugee and a naturalized U.S. citizen — for their critiques of his draconian immigration policies.


Trump has argued on more than one occasion that Omar “hates” the United States and in fact supports Al Qaeda, a baseless claim.