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Refugee Arrivals to US Plummet to Lowest Level in a Decade


FILE - Ismail Issack, father of Miski Shalle, 11, and Muzamil Shalle, 14, embraces his children as their mother Halima Mohamed, far left, looks on as they reunite for the first time in seven years at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The number of refugees coming to the United States dipped sharply in July, dropping to the lowest level of monthly arrivals in more than a decade amid temporary Supreme Court orders that largely supported the government's efforts to curb the number of displaced people allowed into the country.

By Monday afternoon, 1,224 refugees had arrived, according to U.S. State Department data — less than any other month since the 2007 fiscal year.


The number plummeted in recent weeks after the Supreme Court determined that only refugees with close family ties to the United States will be allowed in for now.

The country's highest court is scheduled to hear two cases related to President Donald Trump's travel ban in October.

Asked about the sharp drop in July, a State Department spokesperson referred to the July 19 order by the Supreme Court that determined the "bona fide" relationship applied to relatives, and not to the agencies that resettle refugees in the U.S. — a decision that blocks those refugees without family already here.

The sharp decline in July also comes as the U.S. reached a reduced limit for total arrivals set by Trump. That ceiling of 50,000 refugees for the fiscal year — which began Oct. 1, 2016 — was reached July 12. Trump has insisted on that limit since January; it is a significant reduction over the Obama-set ceiling of 110,000.

As it stands, refugees beyond that limit will only be resettled if they can prove they have "bona fide" immediate family members already in the United States.

The family-relations requirement also extends to programs like those to resettle unaccompanied refugee minors who have no family to care for them in the refugee camps, but have foster families waiting for them in the U.S.

FILE - People carry posters during a rally against President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel, in New York's Times Square, Feb. 19, 2017.
FILE - People carry posters during a rally against President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel, in New York's Times Square, Feb. 19, 2017.

Throughout six months of Trump's executive orders, the lawsuits challenging them, and rulings that started and stopped various parts of the travel ban on six countries and all refugees, the arrivals continued. The last two weeks of July saw the fewest arrivals since Trump's inauguration — the weekly average has been 751, according to an analysis of State Department data, with sometimes dramatic fluctuations depending on court rulings.

But during the weeks of July 16 and July 23, an average of 142 refugees came to the U.S.

Those numbers are "upsetting, not surprising," says Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, one of nine nonprofit agencies that resettles refugees in the U.S.

"If President Trump had his way, it could have been much worse. What he envisioned was a total moratorium of 120 days — what we got was at least close family …" Hetfield said. "It's a narrow subset, but I believe that more than half in our pipeline qualify for those family relationships."

In the next two months, the Trump administration must announce how many refugees will be allowed in for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Resettlement agencies and civil rights organizations are lobbying to keep the arrival numbers as high as possible as the U.N. projects an increasing demand for permanent, safe homes for millions of refugees. To date, Trump has not backed down from an aggressive reduction in the total.

With the ultimate decision in the president's hands, "There's nothing to explicitly prevent him from saying zero," Hetfield said.

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