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Four decades of presidential leadership on refugee protection, until now

This President’s Day, the IRC is releasing a new report looking back at president’s records on refugee admissions since the creation of the modern-day resettlement program in 1980. This report highlights the bipartisan commitment to welcoming refugees and the critical decisions presidents on both sides of the aisle have made to respond to humanitarian crises and further U.S. interests.

For four decades, U.S. presidents have strengthened America’s humanitarian tradition of welcoming refugees:

  • In FY 1982, President Reagan set the refugee admissions ceiling at 140,000 refugees and allocated 96,000 resettlement slots within that ceiling for Indochinese refugees fleeing violence in Southeast Asia. 
  • President Bush raised the FY 1989 refugee admissions ceiling to 116,500 refugees due to increased need for admissions from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Nearly 40,000 refugees from the region arrived that fiscal year. 
  • President Obama increased the FY 2017 refugee admissions ceiling to 110,000 refugees from 85,000 in FY 2016 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, which displaced more than half of the Syrian population in 2016.  

Today, this legacy is in jeopardy. In stark contrast to past administrations, the Trump administration is not only underutilizing this program, it is dismantling it. Despite the immense global need and resounding public support for refugee resettlement, refugee admissions to the U.S. are now at an all-time low: 

  • President Trump has decreased the annual U.S. refugee admissions ceilings to unprecedented lows every year. As a result, refugee admissions plummeted by two thirds from FY 2016 to FY 2019 despite there being over 1.4 million refugees in need of resettlement. Today, the ceiling stands at just 18,000 refugees.
  • The Trump administration has cut admissions of Syrian refugees by 96% since taking office, despite there being an estimated 600,000 Syrian refugees in need of resettlement in 2019—more than any other nationality. 
  • The Trump administration removed regional allocations for refugee admissions, eliminating the needs-based component of the refugee program. This policy change, combined with the historically low refugee admissions ceiling, is resulting in thousands of the world’s most vulnerable refugees being left behind.

Congress must step in to restore refugee admissions to historic levels by passing the GRACE Act. Take action today to ask your representatives to support this crucial legislation

Available documents & links