The world is facing its worst refugee crisis on record. The global population of forcibly displaced people has soared from 33.9 million to a staggering 65.6 million in just two decades, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
But as the crisis continues to worsen ― the agency reports that 20 people flee their home every minute ― President Donald Trump has slammed the door in the face of thousands of people desperately seeking asylum, and his administration has worked tirelessly to keep it shut.
Refugee admission has long been a contentious issue for Trump. He regularly and unabashedly threatened, politicized, mocked and demonized refugees while on the campaign trail. When pressed during his second week in office to uphold an agreement to resettle some 1,250 refugees, Trump abruptly hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after reportedly accusing him of trying to send the “next Boston bombers” to the U.S.
The president’s relentless anti-refugee rhetoric and draconian policy proposals have already led a great number of resettled asylum seekers in the U.S. to flee north to Canada, and have triggered international condemnation.
On World Refugee Day, HuffPost breaks down some of the many ways the Trump administration has threatened refugee rights, particularly with the “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” executive order.
Slashing U.S. Refugee Resettlement Quota
Barely a week after taking office, Trump signed the executive order that placed travel restrictions on residents of seven Muslim-majority nations and slashed the number of refugees who could be resettled in the U.S. from 110,000 to just 50,000 in the 2017 fiscal year.
Scores of House Democrats, meanwhile, had advocated for raising U.S. refugee admissions to 200,000 ― a number they said would more adequately respond to the magnitude of the conflict in Syria.
Humanitarian organization World Relief, which supports refugees throughout the resettlement process, was forced to lay off more than 140 staff members and close five offices in February as a direct result of the White House’s drastic quota reduction.
Refugee resettlement numbers proceeded to plummet in all but four states, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Refugee arrivals nationwide continued to decrease through the first five months of the fiscal year, Pew noted, marking the longest consecutive monthly decline on record.
But after months of protests, international denunciation and intervention by federal courts, the State Department quietly eased refugee restrictions. Weekly refugee arrivals increased from 400 to 900 in April, and had exceeded 1,500 by June.
Halting U.S. Refugee Resettlement
The executive order also sought to suspend refugee admissions from all countries for about four months, delivering a devastating blow to asylum seekers who already face an 18- to 24-month U.S. admission process.
Thousands of families around the world were gripped with fear and anxiety as they faced uncertain futures and the possibility of being separated from loved ones.
“I am crying all the time, especially after the new law from President Trump,” an Iraqi immigrant living in Tennessee told HuffPost at the time. Her twin teenage daughters were stuck in Baghdad due to the executive order. “I miss them, and the situation in Iraq is so bad and I don’t know what to do,” she said.
Federal judges blocked the refugee ban, but the Trump administration quietly halted nearly all refugee admission processing abroad.
International outrage and backlash ensued. In late May, the Department of Homeland Security resumed its refugee interview schedule and committed to a “further expansion” through the end of fiscal year 2017.
Blocking Syrian Refugee Admissions
Yet another alarming element of Trump’s executive order was an outright, indefinite ban on admitting Syrian refugees.
“I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry,” it read.
“We will never forget the lessons of 9/11,” the president said upon signing the executive order, seemingly unaware that none of the 19 hijackers who committed those attacks were from Syria or any of the other countries targeted in his order.
Throughout his election campaign, Trump frequently spread false information that demonized Syrians fleeing their nation’s deadly civil war and blatantly misrepresented how the U.S. vets them.
“I’ll look Syrian children in the face and say they can’t come,” Trump said in 2016. He also vowed to deport the approximately 12,000 Syrian refugees who already lived in the U.S.
After federal courts struck down the president’s initial order, his administration issued a watered-down version that did not include the blanket ban on Syrian refugees. It, too, was blocked in court.
Trump wrote a tweet in February that seemed to confirm that the nations directly affected by his faltering travel ban ― which targets Muslims and prioritizes Christians ― were singled out partly because of of their refugee populations.
He promised that refugees and immigrants seeking admission to the U.S. would be subjected to “extreme vetting,” which would include ideological testing to ensure newcomers share American values.
He has repeatedly criticized the existing refugee vetting system as being “extremely open,” even though the process of screening refugees is extensive.
“Of all the different ways to enter this country as an immigrant, doing so as a refugee is probably the most cumbersome and time-consuming,” then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson explained in an interview with “60 Minutes” in January.
Before an applicant is granted refugee status and admission to the U.S., he or she must get through the U.N.’s screening process, which involves multiple interviews, a collection of background information and iris scans. Applicants who advance to the next step account for less than 1 percent of the global refugee population.
From there, applicants are subjected to the highest level of U.S. security checks and further screened by numerous agencies, including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. They must provide fingerprints to be checked against several biometric databases and go through medical testing as well as cultural orientation classes.
Proposing Drastic Cuts To Foreign Aid Spending
Trump’s “America First” budget blueprint for 2018 threatened to ax nearly one-third of the funding allocated for foreign aid through the U.S. Agency for International Development, which already accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
USAID, which stands to lose more than $10 billion in funding, offers financial supports to crisis-afflicted nations with growing refugee populations.
The budget draft “includes deep cuts to foreign aid,” Trump noted in a statement. “It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share.”
The proposed cuts come at a time when aid organizations say increased funding is urgently needed to save millions of lives.