Millions of people pushed out of their home countries by wars in Syria and Afghanistan are stuck in squalid camps with no country willing to claim them.

Hundreds of thousands more spread across several African nations have been driven from their homes, victims of the devastation of a region in conflict.

And that’s just some of the record 68.5 million people worldwide displaced by war, famine and widespread government persecution. Included in that number are 25.4 million refugees, more than half of them under age 18.

This year, the United States will take in just 20,000 of those refugees, the lowest number in the program’s 38-year history. The number is likely to fall next year.

In this global crisis, under the Trump administration, the world’s superpower is sitting it out. It’s an abdication of our duty as a rich and powerful state, and as a moral beacon. It will lead to the suffering of tens of thousands around the globe, and to the diminishing of our stature.


Not that any of that matters when you’re busy fulfilling a campaign promise. Donald Trump’s central message was that foreigners of a certain kind – Mexicans, Central Americans, Syrians, Muslims of all nationalities – are dangerous, and a drag on our resources to boot.

It doesn’t matter that refugees are legal immigrants who are often running from the very terrorism that Trump attributes to them, and who undergo a stringent vetting process. It doesn’t matter that, once here, they are a net benefit to government revenues, according to a federal study the president commissioned but never publicly released.

It’s easier to lump them all into the box marked “stranger,” and thereby give people something to blame, or to be afraid of.

A week into his presidency, with the same signature that barred travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, Trump suspended the refugee resettlement program and lowered the cap on refugees to 50,000, down from 110,000 in the last year of the Obama administration.

Just 33,000 refugees were resettled that year, the first time that the U.S. took in fewer than the rest of the world. This year the cap was lowered to 45,000, and only about 20,000 will ultimately be resettled as the Trump administration unnecessarily slows the process while prioritizing European and East Asian refugees over those from Africa, Afghanistan and Syria, where most refugees originate.

Next year, the cap will be even lower, at 30,000.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the lower cap Monday, said the retreat is necessary so the government can take care of the “over 800,000 pending asylum cases” resulting from arrivals along the southern border.

There is no doubt that the backlog is a problem, but Pompeo’s statement is misleading. Refugee and asylum cases are handled by separate departments. There are only about 320,000 open asylum cases, and many of those applications will be rejected. The higher number seems to include all manner of cases in immigration court, which has nothing to do with the refugee process.

And it’s not like the administration is embracing the asylum process. Officials are actively making it more difficult to apply for and be granted asylum. They have taken cruel actions along the border in order to discourage asylum seekers.

No, this action isn’t designed to help vulnerable people but to keep them out of the country, based only on a distorted view of who they are and what they want.

The real danger does not come from refugees – it comes from denying our responsibility in counteracting this crisis, and letting millions suffer while we pull back our hand.

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