U.S. Criticized For Lowering The Limit Of Refugees It Will Resettle

Sep 28, 2017
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Trump administration is cutting the number of refugees the U.S. will accept into the country, and Democrats say that is sending the wrong signal. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: First, a quick review of the numbers - last year, the Obama administration raised the ceiling on refugee admissions to over 100,000. But by the time the fiscal year ends this week, only about 54,000 will have arrived. And for the next fiscal year, the Trump administration has set the ceiling lower to 45,000 refugees.

State Department officials say the U.S. remains the leader in a U.N. program to find permanent homes for refugees. Technically, that's true, says Anne Richard, who ran the program under the Obama administration.

ANNE RICHARD: But it's such a cut from where we were headed, what we've done in the past and what we could absorb. That's the tragedy.

KELEMEN: The U.N. estimates there are 65 million people uprooted by conflict. Only a tiny fraction are identified for resettlement. And by taking the lead on those, Richard says, the U.S. sets an example for countries housing many more temporarily.

RICHARD: A country like Kenya, or Jordan or Lebanon, when they hear the relative numbers coming to the U.S. related to the numbers that they're hosting, it seems like we're taking small numbers. But I always would remind them that when we took refugees in, it was an offer that was permanent.

KELEMEN: At the Senate, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, says it may now be harder to ask countries to keep their borders open, including Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled what some are calling ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

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BEN CARDIN: How do we have credibility as the admitted global leader of the free world if we say, all of you do this, but in our country, no, we don't have to? And yet we are the most capable country in the world - the most capable country in the world - to take in larger numbers.

KELEMEN: Cardin sees this as a sign of the U.S. ceding its leadership role. Trump administration officials argue it's a sign that this White House is putting the safety of Americans first, and the U.S. continues to give aid to refugees overseas.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: That's Michele Kelemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.