Even as polls consistently show the American people favor much lower limits on accepting refugees than most of the political class, the Department of Homeland Security has quietly conceded that it has difficulty handling the current quota of 50,000 per year.
“In private meetings with White House officials in recent weeks, DHS officials have raised logistical concerns about handling 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2018,” Politico reported on Wednesday, “if the president decides to maintain the cap that he imposed as part of the travel ban, according to two administration officials.”
“One of the officials said the department was swamped with a backlog of asylum applications, which have skyrocketed in recent years,” the report continued. “In June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had roughly 275,000 pending ‘affirmative’ asylum cases – when someone arrives in the U.S. and requests safe haven. The figure amounts to a more than 600 percent increase in the backlog compared with December 2013.”
This is a very different attitude from the Obama administration’s breezy assurances that more than 100,000 refugees per year could be easily accommodated without compromising national security. The Obama assessments were clearly either completely dishonest or catastrophically mistaken.
Political controversy concerning refugee limits is bound to lie ahead because despite admitting it can scarcely handle the backlog of asylum applications it has already accumulated, DHS recommends lowering the refugee ceiling for fiscal year 2018 by only 20 percent, to 40,000. The president’s National Security Council and Domestic Policy Council recommend either leaving the limit at 50,000 or reducing it to 40,000.
Politico notes the refugee cap has rarely dipped below 40,000 in the post-9/11 era, while it has recently been raised as high as 85,000 for fiscal year 2016 and peaked at more than 207,000 per year in the early nineties.
An official consensus seems to be forming that the 85,000 limit in 2016 was too much for the vetting system to handle, but it is not necessary to reduce the cap below 40,000 to free up enough excess processing capacity to clear up the asylum backlog. Meanwhile, refugee activists think 50,000 is much too low, arguing that the United States has a moral responsibility to take 75,000 per year or more.
Sources familiar with the discussion say that during his tenure as chief White House strategist, Breitbart News Executive Editor Steve Bannon advocated for a limit of 25,000 per year or less.
Polls show a majority of the American people also favor substantially reducing the cap. In fact, a new Pulse Opinion Research survey showed that 52 percent of Americans would prefer to admit 25,000 refugees per year or less, with a sizable minority of those respondents (39 percent) saying they would rather admit no refugees at all, instead favoring the establishment of safe zones closer to their countries of origin. Only 27 percent of respondents to this poll supported raising the limit to the 100,000 or more demanded by some activists.