Last month, the number of refugees admitted to the United States hit zero. That’s the first month on record this has ever happened, according to data going back nearly three decades from both the State Department and World Relief, a faith-based resettlement organization.
So what happened?
The problem wasn’t that the 26-million-strong global refugee population lacked a single person who met America’s strict screening requirements. No, our admissions flatlined because Trump announced and then delayed signing a new refugee ceiling for the 2020 fiscal year. This delay led to a complete moratorium on admissions.
Hundreds of flights were canceled for approved refugees who had waited years or decades to come — once again, legally — to our shining city on a hill. As the moratorium dragged on, some refugees’ eligibility expired. At least four were minors who have now turned 18. This means they’ve aged out of the resettlement program they were accepted under and now must get back in line, perhaps indefinitely, to reapply under a different system as adults.
By the way, when Trump finally did sign off on that new fiscal 2020 refugee ceiling, it was for a mere 18,000 admissions. That too is an all-time low. The Trump administration has also thrown up other roadblocks for refugees, such as allowing states and localities to veto any resettlements within their borders. (This policy is being challenged in court.)
Trump supporters might argue that, whatever our moral obligations to the world’s destitute and desperate, the president is merely keeping immigrants out to protect our economy.
They are wrong.
The Trump administration’s own research — which it attempted to suppress — found that refugees are a net positive for the U.S. economy and government budgets. That is, over the course of a decade, refugees pay more in taxes than they receive in public benefits.
The Trump administration is also turning away categories of legal would-be immigrants who are historically admitted because they are economically valuable.
Last week, for instance, we learned that enrollment of new international students has fallen more than 10 percent over the past three years, according to the Institute of International Education.
This is a shame. Higher education has been one of our most successful industries, adding $45 billion to the U.S. economy last year alone. International students spend money in the local economies where they study — on lodging, food, books, entertainment. They are also more likely to pay full freight in tuition. This means they cross-subsidize American students, especially in states where public education funding has fallen.
New international student enrollment is declining for a number of reasons, including high tuition and fear of campus gun violence. But the barrier most frequently cited by universities lately is problems with the visa-application process. Meanwhile, other developed countries, such as Canada and Australia, are poaching students who might otherwise have contributed their talents here.
These are hardly the only signs we’re discouraging or denying legions of desirable and legal would-be immigrants.
Denial rates for H-1B visas — awarded to high-skilled workers — have more than doubled since Trump took office, according to tabulations from National Foundation for American Policy. Processing delays for citizenship applications have doubled. Naturalization and visa fees have skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, when families apply for their legal right to asylum at the border, we tell them to await processing in Mexico, in a region so dangerous that Americans are instructed not to visit. (“Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common,” the State Department website advises.)
There, asylum seekers live outdoors, in filthy, flooded, freezing tents. Agonized parents send sick and frostbitten toddlers to cross into the U.S. alone, because they fear they’ll die waiting in Mexico.
And if these desperate families don’t like living in squalor, we tell them they should just return home, get in line and apply through another legal route into the United States. Perhaps as refugees, students or workers.
As though there were still such routes to be found.