Calamitous Omnibus Budget Rejects Americans’ Plea to Slow Refugee Resettlement

Joe Guzzardi
May 14, 2017

Reviewing the rubble the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill left in its wake, one item stands out as particularly egregious: the commitment to continue funding refugee resettlement.

While the federal court stymied President Donald Trump’s executive order to impose a pause on refugee intake from certain terrorist-sponsoring nations, the budget could have provided the format to fulfill an oft-made campaign promise.

Instead, refugee resettlement will go on as if President Barack Obama were still in the White House. And Trump’s 62 million-strong base is left to wonder what the next broken promise might be.

Since Jan. 20, the Trump administration has admitted 13,244 refugees, more than any versus the comparable period in the last 10 years. The total includes three nations from the State Department’s terrorism-sponsors’ list: Iran, Sudan and Syria. Curiously, Somalia, a leading refugee sender and a haven of anti-American activity, was removed from the list in 2010.

An inadequate vetting system where refugees’ persecution claims are rarely challenged does little to reassure Americans of their fear that another terrorist attack is inevitable. Looking at the refugee-related European crisis deepens American anxiety.

Although the federal courts blocked Trump’s refugee admissions pause, the budget negotiations represented another forum where the chief executive could have reached his goal.

To the disappointed millions of Trump supporters, however, he didn’t lean on House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to demand that his refugee pause — or for that matter, defunding sanctuary cities — be included as part of the final deal.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., put it after the upper chamber passed the spending bill 78-13: the Democrats “cleaned our clock.” The Republican-controlled Congress capitulated despite having the power of the purse.

Refugee resettlement has been a tough political sell for eight decades, when polling first showed that, broadly, the public is skeptical. As Americans learned more about resettlement, the less supportive they’ve become.

During fiscal year 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, the United States admitted 84,995 refugees. Neither Hawaii nor Delaware, Obama’s birth state and the state where then-Vice President Joe Biden served as U.S. senator for 36 years, respectively, received a single refugee — even though Biden sponsored the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. In the eyes of many, Hawaii’s and Delaware’s nonparticipation isn’t coincidence, but rather an affirmation of the refugee program’s disruptive effect on already immigrant-overwhelmed communities.

The United States takes in more refugees than the rest of the world’s developed nations combined. Advocates’ constant lobbying for more has reinforced the sense, especially among struggling Americans, that no matter how much is done and how many billions of dollars are spent, it’s never enough.

Perhaps greater than any reservation Americans might have about refugee intake, the inescapable question has become: “Why don’t the White House and Congress care more about us?”

Even if the United States were to triple its refugee commitment, it wouldn’t improve the suffering of hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Resettlement is a Band-Aid solution, not a permanent one.

Logic and compassion dictate that the best way to help the greatest number of refugees and displaced persons is to assist them near their homes so they can return quickly once conditions improve.

— Joe Guzzardi is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at, or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.