PRESIDENT TRUMP, livid at the suspected chemical attack that inflicted civilian casualties in Syria, wasted little time in telegraphing his intent to launch a retaliatory strike at the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. His compassion for the victims of Syria’s brutal civil war does not extend to allowing them to enter the United States, however. Syrian refugees, like those from most other countries beset by war and strife — especially Muslim ones — have found the door to America shut tight.
Mr. Trump’s multipronged attack on all forms of immigration, legal and illegal, has been nowhere more effective than in choking off the flow of refugees. In impeding that source of immigrants, the president is not only betraying a commitment that successive administrations had made to helping the world’s most desperate and bedraggled people, he also is abdicating America’s humanitarian leadership worldwide.
Since the current refugee program was established in 1980, the United States has admitted about 80,000 refugees annually, on average, and in no year before Mr. Trump took office did any administration set a refugee admissions ceiling below an annual total of 67,000. (Actual admissions did plummet for a few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, although the ceiling did not.)
That changed with the current administration, which set a cap of just 45,000 for the current fiscal year, marking a four-decade low. That seemed drastic enough; but the number of refugee entries now looks as though it will fall far short of the ceiling—possibly below the modern nadir of about 27,000, to which annual admissions fell in the fiscal year right after 9/11. Just 10,548 refugees were admitted in the first half of the fiscal year that started last October — about a fourth of the number admitted during the same period a year earlier and less than half the number of people forced to flee their homes each day because of conflict and persecution worldwide, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Having pledged in his campaign to ban all Muslim refugees from entering the country, Mr. Trump seems to be making strides toward that goal — despite his administration’s insistence that it is not targeting refugees on the basis of religion. While nearly half of refugee admissions had come from predominantly Muslim nations in recent years, those numbers have plummeted since Mr. Trump took office, while refugees identifying themselves as Christian and of other faiths have risen.
Syria, where unspeakable violence has produced a torrent of refugees for most of this decade, was among the mostly Muslim countries that the administration singled out for what has amounted to a virtual suspension of admissions. Mr. Trump expresses outrage at the violence inflicted on civilians there and has the power to alleviate at least some suffering by allowing Syrians to pursue new lives in the United States. He does just the opposite, having admitted just 44 Syrian refugees in the first six months of the current fiscal year, a more than 99 percent decrease from the 5,800 admitted in the same span last year.
The website of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration has been slow to catch up with the new normal imposed by the Trump administration. It boasts that the United States admits almost two-thirds of refugees settled in third countries, “more than all other resettlement countries combined.” Not anymore. Not even close.