A Pivotal Moment for the US Refugee Resettlement Program



NEARLY ONE OUT OF EVERY 100 people in the world is currently displaced from their homes. This proportion is higher than at any point since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began collecting data on displaced persons in 1951.1

Only a small number of the millions of forcibly displaced people worldwide are resettled each year (see Figure 1). Although the international community has developed a system for protecting and supporting the displaced, providing them with truly durable solutions, such as resettlement, depends on commitments from many countries. 

Inadequate efforts from the international community cause immense harm to forcibly displaced people. Refugees have fled their homes because of persecution based on their group identity, and yet they far too frequently then become targets of nativism, racism, and xenophobia when they arrive in their new place of residence. These experiences of being displaced and treated as "Other" cause persistent marginality and inequality for people who have been forcefully displaced from their homes.

This report provides a brief overview of how the US refugee resettlement program fits within the international refugee protection system; analyzes the tensions facing the US resettlement program and the implications of the US restricting its resettlement program; and, discusses how the US can reaffirm its commitment to refugee protection during a pivotal juncture for international refugee protection. Our analysis reaffirms that the US can and should play a stronger and more inclusive role in protecting and welcoming refugees. 

Figure 1 includes a diagram showcasing the total displaced people, refugees, stateless people, and refugees resettled in 2015


This report comes at a pivotal moment for the US refugee resettlement program, which has been resilient in the face of recent unprecedented attempts to undermine it. In April 2017, a federal appeals court declined to reinstate the Trump Administration’s second executive order that sought to restrict the program. This ruling continues the trend of federal judges thwarting the administration’s refugee resettlement executive orders. In a separate decision, the State Department lifted a weekly quota on the number of refugees allowed to enter the country, which refugee groups predict will result in a doubling of refugees expected to enter the country this fiscal year. These promising developments suggest that the US may be able to maintain its commitment to protecting refugees in the face of increasing threats to the refugee resettlement program.

This report is part of a broader research effort the Haas Institute is conducting on migration and refugees, and will be followed by a forthcoming Haas Institute report on global migration, Moving Targets: Forced Migration in the Twenty-First Century.