The Trump administration has drastically reduced the number of refugees allowed into the United States, but even as overall levels fall, the country is resettling more Christians than Muslims.
According to official State Department data, numbers are down across the board for refugee resettlement, but the drop appears to be especially acute for Muslims. In 2017, 11,493 Muslim refugees were resettled, while 15,548 Christians were. As of February 7, 281 Muslim refugees have been admitted this year, compared with 1,200 Christians, continuing a trend from the first six months of Trump’s time in office. Of the five countries in the world that produce the most refugees, four are majority Muslim.
Trump’s decision to close the door on refugees comes as a worldwide crisis continues to worsen.
As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to ban Muslims from being able to travel to the United States, a policy he has enacted as president with uneven success. Beyond Trump’s own anti-Muslim rhetoric, he has attempted to stock his administration with officials who share his views, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump’s decision to close the door on refugees comes as a worldwide crisis continues to worsen, despite declining public attention. According to the United Nations, there were 22.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2016, the largest number since World War II.
Trump has reduced the overall number of refugees the US will allow in fiscal year 2018 to 45,000, a decrease from 2017, and a massive reduction from the 85,000 admitted in 2016, the final year of the Obama administration. Even with the dramatically reduced ceiling, the Trump administration is behind schedule, according to a recent statement by Refugee Council USA. “Six thousand seven hundred and four total refugees have arrived to the US during the first four months of [fiscal year] 2018. Approximately 15,000 refugees should have arrived to the US by January 31.”
Only two Syrian refugees were admitted in January, and none were admitted in the prior two months, despite the ongoing civil war there.
Moreover, the low number of Muslim refugees fails to express the full extent to which the Trump administration has closed off resettlement from many Muslim-majority countries. Only two Syrian refugees were admitted in January, and none were admitted in the prior two months, despite the ongoing civil war there. In total, only 28 individuals from nine Muslim-majority countries were admitted in the first month of the year.
The administration has shut the country’s doors to Muslims in two separate but related ways. In addition to Trump’s infamous Muslim ban, which is now on its third version and is being implemented pending an expected hearing by the Supreme Court in April, the administration announced in October it would ban refugees from 11 countries it argued posed special “security” risks, even as it resumed admitting refugees from other countries.
That decision triggered court challenges by human rights advocates. At the end of January, the administration said it would resume allowing in refugees from those 11 countries, which it hasn’t confirmed publicly. According to Reuters, which first obtained a government memo listing the countries, they are Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Whether the Trump administration is actively favoring Christian refugees is unclear, though a recent nomination to a key position would give that impression. Trump recently tapped Ken Isaacs, a vice president at the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, to head the UN-run International Organization for Migration. Isaacs has a history of making Islamophobic comments and has said Christian refugees should be prioritized over Muslims, as reported by The Washington Post. (The State Department didn’t offer an on-the-record comment about whether the Trump administration prioritizes Christians over Muslims when asked by Truthout. Instead, a department spokesperson requested anonymity to provide an official statement, which Truthout is refusing to grant.)
What is clear, though, according to refugee advocates, is that the Trump administration is deliberately targeting Muslims seeking resettlement in the United States.
“Unequivocally, yes, this is a discriminatory policy,” Ashley Houghton, tactical campaigns manager at Amnesty International, told Truthout. “We know this because the president said he would ban Muslims from the United States, and then he did. You cannot separate deeply disturbing language from deeply disturbing policy.”
Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, says Trump’s policies after one year show an obvious anti-Muslim bias.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Fisher told Truthout. “After suspending refugee resettlement entirely for 120 days, the administration’s refugee restrictions from October 24 targeted nationals from 11 countries in particular, nine of which are predominantly Muslim.”
“We don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the president, who has vilified Muslims time and time again, wants to impose ever tighter restrictions on refugees from Muslim-majority countries,” Fisher added.
Even if all of Trump’s bans and restrictions were somehow lifted immediately, his administration’s policies would still have lasting impact for individuals abroad waiting for admittance to the United States. The process is long and complicated, and often involves multiple sign-offs from sub-agencies and departments across the executive branch. In some cases, those approvals are time-sensitive, so regular bureaucratic sloth can result in a case that has been green-lit going back into the waiting pile if one agency takes too long to sign off.
Plus, the government works with nine separate agencies to resettle refugees, and with dramatically fewer refugees being admitted, some agencies themselves are struggling. “We’re shuttering off refugees from entering the United States, through these series of bans, which makes it harder for resettlement agencies to stay alive, which makes it harder to resettle refugees in the future,” said Houghton.
The result is confusion and uncertainty among those waiting to hear whether or not they will be approved by the government. Even victories can be fleeting, as the back-and-forth decisions and judicial orders on the Muslim ban prove. The administration’s decision to lift its ban on refugees from the 11 countries it listed last year was a victory for advocates, but what the new screening procedures will look like isn’t clear, and whether or not the administration will fully restart the resettlement process is far from certain.
“We have challenged this new refugee ban in court and won,” said Fisher. “Now we have to make sure the government actually follows through and resumes refugee resettlement.”