This would be a disaster for the US in a number of ways.
If the administration shuts down refugee admissions, it would give President Donald Trump a powerful talking point as he makes immigration restrictions a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.
At the same time, it would strand thousands of people already far along in the process and damage the ability of resettlement agencies to process refugees in future years, according to advocates tracking the issue.
“In the long-term, it would mean that the capacity and the ability of the United States to resettle refugees would be completely decimated,” said Jen Smyers, a director with Church World Service, one of the nine U.S. resettlement agencies.
Even as some within the administration have sought to shut down the refugee program, the Defense Department has emerged as an advocate. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pushed behind the scenes last year for the administration to keep the refugee ceiling at 45,000, according to a previously undisclosed letter obtained by POLITICO.
“Over the last 17 years of war, numerous Iraqi nationals have risked their own lives and their families’ lives by aligning with our diplomats and warfighters providing essential mission support. We owe them support for their commitment,” he wrote in a missive to White House national security adviser John Bolton.
Beyond the long run military implications, there is a more basic problem. The United States is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and as such, we have legal obligations that will not be met under the administrations plans.
Nearly every country in the world accepts refugees, many at rates far higher than the US. Perhaps we no longer care about the court of world opinion, but I think that is a grave error. One of our greatest assets in the Cold War was that we were on the side of freedom. The Iron Curtain held others back from coming to the West and we rejoiced when people were able to gain freedom and claim asylum.
Famously, two East German families escaped via a hot air balloon and were met with cheers and adulation. Today they would be denied asylum.
In what is increasingly a Cold War with China, have a better moral claim with the people from around the world might be as important as military strength. Today that moral claim took another hit.