For decades, the United States has been the world’s top resettlement destination for refugees, with roughly 3 million admitted here since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. But as Pew Research notes, refugee admission rates have fluctuated over the years, including an almost complete shutdown for three months after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
On January 27, President Trump signed a sweeping executive order suspending the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and cutting the maximum number of refugees allowed into the U.S. each year by more than half. It indefinitely bars all Syrian refugees, thousands of whom continue to flee their country’s bloody civil war.
Announced as a national security measure to protect the U.S. from terrorist threats, the president’s actions instantly unleashed a global outcry and fierce protests. It has also resulted in multiple lawsuits and scenes of chaos at airports around the world, where travelers have been detained and held in legal limbo.
On February 3, a U.S. district judge temporarily blocked the seven-nation ban, and allowed travelers with valid visas to resume entering the country. The judge’s ruling also temporarily reversed the ban on Syrian refugees and the prioritization of religious minorities. On February 9, The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision, ruling against the government’s argument that the suspension be lifted for reasons of national security.
The 1951 Refugee Convention makes a distinction between refugees and migrants, who are defined as people who make a conscious decision to leave their countries to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Unlike migrants, most refugees are eligible for protection and support from the United Nations and its member states, though each nation has its own distinct rules and restrictions regarding the numbers of refugees they will allow to enter, and the level of support they will provide.