For the first time since 1980, the U.S. doesn't lead the world in refugee resettlement numbers.

The U.N. states, "A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so."

Refugees differ from asylum seekers in that refugees' claims have already been verified. Asylum seekers only gain refugee status after their asylum claims have been vetted and been determined to be legitimate. Refugees are the people we know can't go home.

The United States has a long history of refugee resettlement. Up until 2017, the U.S. resettled more refugees each year than the rest of the world combined.

Now, for the first time since the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed, we no longer lead the world in that category. In 2018, Canada settled more refugees than the U.S. by about 20%—28,000 resettlements to our 23,000. Canada, as a reminder, has one-tenth the population of the U.S. and its economy is about one-tenth the size of ours.


Per capita, Canada actually resettled more than ten times as many refugees as the U.S.—around 750 refugees per million residents to our 70 per million. Australia (510 per million), Sweden (493 per million) and Norway (465 per million) also had much higher per capita resettlement figures than the U.S.

This is not winning.

Despite a booming economy and dire global need, the U.S. has slashed its refugee resettlement numbers by more than 75% in the past three years.

Since 1975, the U.S. government's resettlement program has settled some 3 million refugees—that works out to an average of 75,000 per year.

Until recently, the lowest annual number resettled until recently was 2002, when around 27,000 refugees were admitted. (That was the year following 9/11, when the U.S. was understandably on super high security alert.)

Pew Research Center

In 2016, we welcomed 97,000. That number plummeted to 33,000 in 2017 and to 23,000 in 2018.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are close to 26 million refugees right now—the largest number the world has ever seen—and half them are children. The U.S. resettlement of 23,000 accounts for less than .01 percent of the total number of people awaiting resettlement, who are living in overcrowded refugee camps or stuck in limbo in stopover countries.

Our current approach to refugees is embarrassing, and a shameful stain on our country's legacy. I mean, we welcomed more refugees immediately following the worst terror attack in history than we did last year. The need is greater than ever, our economy is booming, and yet we are closing our doors in the faces of desperate families who have nowhere to go.

Gross. We are better than this, America.

As a reminder, the data shows that refugees do not drain our resources, nor do they pose a threat to our safety.

The main reasons I see people argue against resettling more refugees are "We can't afford it," and "A terrorist might slip in." Neither of those arguments hold up, though.

Research shows that, even after accounting for the initial cost of getting them settled, refugees have a neutral-to-beneficial effect on the economy. In other words, over time they create more revenue than it costs to bring them in. Since immigrants in general tend to start more businesses than the average American-born citizen, refugees are actually more likely to add jobs and boost the economy.

Regarding safety, the refugee resettlement program is the longest, hardest, and least likely way to get into the United States. Most refugees don't get to choose their country of resettlement, and the ones who come to the U.S. are the most thoroughly vetted people to set foot in our country. You'd have to be a really dumb terrorist to try to slip in through the refugee resettlement program, which is why the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack by a refugee on U.S. soil is a whopping 1 in 3.64 billion.

There's no good reason for our refugee resettlement numbers to be slashed when there are more people in need than ever before. If the government really doesn't want to fund it, why don't they create a private refugee sponsor program like Canada has?

We can't offer a safe haven for everyone, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't help as many as we can—and we can definitely do a lot more than we are doing right now.

UNHCR's global trends in forced displacement – 2018 figures www.youtube.com

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