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As The U.S. Takes In Fewer Refugees, Its Global Role Is Changing


Here's a number that says a lot about the Trump administration's policy on refugees - 62. That's the number of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war who were resettled in the U.S. in the fiscal year that ended in September. In the final year of the Obama administration, there were about 12,000. This is part of the current White House's effort to cut immigration overall. NPR's Deborah Amos covers refugees and joins us to take a year-end look at the effects of this policy. Hi, Deb.


SHAPIRO: The overall number of refugees resettling in the U.S. is way down, even apart from Syrians. Who is still coming?

AMOS: Most of the refugees coming are from Africa or from Europe and in particular countries that were part of the former Soviet Union, for example, Ukraine. But Muslim refugees are down by 90 percent. Latin America is down by 40 percent. The overall numbers resettled this year - only 22,000. And that's less than half of the 45,000 that the president said is a cap for this year, 2018.

SHAPIRO: There's this entire infrastructure of organizations that help resettle refugees in the U.S. What is this cutback doing to them?

AMOS: Oh, this has been devastating because there are nine organizations. They get federal funding based on the number of refugees. So there's been these drastic budget cuts, and there have been layoffs. Here's Jennifer Quigley. She's a refugee advocate at Human Rights First in Washington.

JENNIFER QUIGLEY: This is very much the dismantling of the program's infrastructure in the U.S.

AMOS: And Quigley says that the president aims to zero out this program.

QUIGLEY: We would not be surprised if we do not have this program at the end of this administration if there isn't some type of intervention by Congress to change the shape of this program.

AMOS: You know, Quigley points out that the refugee resettlement program was the first cut to legal immigration. The White House gives different reasons for those cuts. They talk about security concerns. They say they're giving money to countries that are hosting refugees closer to home. But still, this administration is making cuts to other legal paths. They're limiting visas for high-tech workers, tougher security for green card holders, cancelling temporary protected status - TPS, it's called. And that's for about a half a million U.S. residents. Now they're subject to deportation.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about those people with TPS status. Those visas are not the same as refugees. These people have fled natural disasters or violence. And this year, many of them have left the U.S. You were recently in Canada. What has the impact there been?

AMOS: So about 35,000 have crossed into Canada since the beginning of the Trump administration. And this wave has swamped Canada's immigration system. For the first time on Friday, Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, blamed Trump directly because it's become a wedge issue for him. Polls show a majority of Canadians believe it is a crisis. It's changed the rhetoric around immigration in Canada, says Craig Damian Smith. He's a migration specialist at the University of Toronto.

CRAIG DAMIAN SMITH: I think the danger is in a public discourse and eventually violence towards asylum-seekers and growing xenophobia. It's scary nonetheless, especially when Canada is supposed to be this kind of beacon of liberalism and tolerance and multiculturalism.

AMOS: You know, let me just note that in comparison to the U.S., Canada in 2017 accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees, and it had widespread support.

SHAPIRO: The U.S. has historically been a country that was welcoming to people fleeing conflict. Has the Trump administration essentially reshaped that role on that reputation?

AMOS: You know, the larger issue on immigration - the courts have stopped a lot of what this administration has tried to do. But when you talk about the refugee program, advocates say that the cuts have severely weakened this program. And it's going to have to be rebuilt if a future administration wants to up those numbers. You know, this is a global crisis. There are 25 million refugees according to the U.N. Half of them are children. And with these refugee spots dwindling, people are going to continue to hire smugglers, board dangerous boats, cross frontiers, slip over borders because people want to be safe.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Deborah Amos. Thanks a lot, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.