In a Reutersreport issued yesterday, Pentagon and US military officials revealed their fears regarding Donald Trump's policies for admitting refugees into the country, particularly Iraqis who have provided aid to our troops there.
Under President Obama, the state department guidelines allowed Iraqi asylum seekers to apply directly for resettlement based on their ties with the US - for example, if they had worked as interpreters for our troops, worked for an organization involved with the military, or been employed by a US media outlet or NGO. More than 5,000 people were admitted through this policy in the last year of his presidency alone. However, since October 1st, 2017, the beginning of the current fiscal year, only 48 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the United States - and that's out of thousands of applicants.
No one knows what specifically is slowing this down, but a White House meeting last week targeted Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs), which are conducted by the FBI and the intelligence community, as a probable cause. The SAOs are time-consuming to fill out and require a great deal of information that may not be relevant to the asylum-seekers' needs, including multiple phone numbers and email addresses for family members. Out of 88 recent applications, the FBI/IC had found suspicious information on 87 of them.
Although government officials state that these policies are in place for national security reasons, statistics suggest that the slowdown is rooted in the Trump Administration's Islamophobia. Of the 11 countries that automatically require SAOs for asylum-seekers, only two are non-Muslim majority: North Korea and South Sudan. The other nine, which include Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, all are between 83-99% Muslim.
These policies are affecting refugees all over the world. Last September, Trump set the cap for refugee acceptance at 45,000, the lowest it had ever been in the 36-year-history of the resettlement program, even though administration officials like Stephen Miller wanted to set it as low as 15,000 (by contrast, Obama's 2016 cap was 110,000.) By the end of the fiscal year, Reuters predicts the US will only have accepted about 22,000 refugees.
The effects of this program are being felt the worst in countries like Syria, where 13 million have been displaced due to their nation's civil war. Many of these refugees have resettled in far more hostile countries than ours, such as Turkey and Egypt. They, along with Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq host more than 5.6 million displaced Syrians, almost half of the worldwide total. Although more than 3,000 Syrians have been resettled in the United States since Trump took office, the vast majority came under Obama's refugee cap, which remained in place for the first nine months of the current administration. After their reset, the number of admitted Syrians dropped to 11 as of April 2018.
According to the UNHCR, there are currently 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, more than there were after World War II, 25.4 of whom are refugees. Previously, the US has been responsible for more resettlement than any other state. Despite the unfair treatment they have received throughout much of the nation's history, immigrants have not only long been identified with America's image, but also contributed greatly to its economy. Between 1987 and 2016, refugee representation in both the labor force and employment were 68 and 64%, a greater total than the entire American population. In addition, they exceeded the population in personal income, homeownership, computer and internet access, and health insurance.
The Pentagon's worry over the Trump Administration's lack of interest in helping these displaced people is justified: given that the 45,000 cap, the stringent screening policies, and the chaos at the border all seem to have deterred immigrants from entering the country, it may be set even lower for the next fiscal year. These policies have served not to make the nation safer, but to destroy a crucial part of its identity and tarnish its image in the eyes of the world.