The president is finding that changing immigration policy is more like trench warfare than shock-and-awe.
Getting anything through Congress has so far proven impossible, due to combination of the filibuster rule, a rump group of loose-border Republicans, and the White House’s own poorly run legislative operation.
Meanwhile, #Resistance judges have acted lawlessly in an attempt to stymie legitimate exercises of executive authority. The latest example is the almost comical order to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty, an Obama initiative launched not with legislation, nor with an executive order or even a formal regulation, but with a simple memo, which the judge now pretends has the force of law.
But refugee policy is one area where the administration can storm some trenches successfully. Even the domestic “charities” that make their living from resettling refugees (on the taxpayers’ dime) acknowledge that refugee policy is a component of foreign policy, which is why the president has wide latitude.
He has already exercised that authority by reducing the ceiling for refugee resettlement in the current fiscal year to 45,000, down from the Obama administration’s FY 2017 ceiling of 110,000. Owing to the development and implementation of new procedures, the actual number of refugees likely to be resettled through FY 2018 (which ends September 30) will be well below the ceiling, maybe 21,000.
The new fiscal year starts in a month and a half, and there is a struggle inside the administration over the resettlement ceiling for FY 2019. The hawks are pushing for a lower ceiling while the doves, both career State Department officials and the resettlement “charities,” are pushing for a higher one.
None of the arguments for raising the number of refugees to be resettled holds water. The humanitarian argument is the weakest; in fact, as I’ve argued on these pages, large-scale refugee resettlement is immoral. Because the taxpayer funds expended on settling a single refugee in the U.S. could help twelve refugees in the country where they’ve found shelter, advocacy for resettlement amounts to little more than virtue signaling. As the Pharisee in Luke 19 might have said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this immigration hawk. I fast twice a week and advocate for increased refugee admissions.”
Nor is there a good foreign-policy argument for increasing refugee admissions. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, get no benefit from having a handful of them relocated with great fanfare to America’s hard-pressed Rust Belt while millions remain. As my colleague Nayla Rush has written of resettlement, “Even if these numbers were to double, triple, or more, the reality is that the effect of resettlement — both real and symbolic — on host countries is minimal, akin to rain drops in the ocean.”
Finally, and most absurdly, some argue that refugee resettlement is a fiscal and economic boon. Jason Richwine has shown that the educational level of new refugees has deteriorated dramatically over the past 20 years, both in absolute terms and relative to the native-born. Consequently, most are on welfare. As he’s written, “Given their low education levels and high rates of welfare use, today’s refugees cannot be net fiscal contributors by any plausible analysis.” Of course, we don’t take refugees for economic reasons, but to pretend that they’re not costly is a fairy tale.
Considering that fewer than 10 percent of the refugees referred in 2017 by the U.N. for resettlement in developed countries were “emergency” or “urgent” cases, amounting to fewer than 6,000 people, the FY 2019 ceiling could be reduced significantly and still accommodate all such cases worldwide.
President Trump told the Lebanese prime minister last year that, “Our approach, supporting the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible, is the best way to help most people.” Those voices — both inside and outside the government — arguing for a different approach should be resisted.