MANHATTAN (CN) — True to the Emma Lazarus sonnet inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the United States has stood as a global leader in resettling refugees over the past several decades: some 3 million since 1980.
As noted Thursday in a new report by the Pew Research Center, that intake has represented more than two-thirds of the world’s refugee population.
Continuing a trend that began in the waning days of former President Barack Obama’s administration, however, the nation has been abandoning this historic role.
While U.S. refugee resettlement statistics typically waxed and waned with displacement trends, senior Pew researcher Phillip Connor found that this pattern slipped last year as millions fled conflicts in Syria, Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa.
“Even with the 2016 increase, however, the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. under President Obama was lower than in previous times of high refugee resettlement in the U.S. and did not keep pace with the world’s refugee population,” the 40-page report states.
Examining 15 years of data from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and the U.S. Department of State, Pew noted that this slippage must be read in the context of an unprecedented global crisis.
“Across the globe in 2016, there were about 17.2 million people displaced from their homes due to conflict or persecution across international borders, according to UNHCR,” the report states, using an abbreviation for the U.N. refugee agency.
“That is a new global high point that rivals the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall,” it continues.
Meanwhile the golden doors that poet Lazarus described as “The New Colossus” are further creaking shut.
“Looking ahead to fiscal 2018, the Trump administration has proposed a refugee resettlement ceiling of 45,000 to Congress,” Pew’s report states. “The White House has also asked Congress for lower annual admissions of refugees as part of their immigration principles for immigration legislation.”
Pew’s study falls on the heels of new details about the hardline policies Trump wants passed in exchange for extending a deportation-deferment program that Obama instituted for certain young immigrants who came to the United States illegally.
To keep the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program running, Trump wants his wall across the U.S.-Mexican border built, an overhaul of the nation’s green card system, and a crackdown on unaccompanied minors.
Immigration advocates branded the proposals as a white nationalist wish list, noting that they seem designed to curb Latino communities in particular.
As noted by the Pew study, refugees to the United States are increasingly coming from Middle Eastern and African nations.
“In fiscal 2002 – the earliest year for which we have detailed data on U.S. refugee arrivals – 17 percent of refugees entering the U.S. (nearly 5,000) were from Middle Eastern and African countries,” the report states (parentheses in original). “By fiscal 2017, that share had grown to more than two-thirds (68 percent, or slightly more than 36,000) of U.S. refugee arrivals, reflecting a similar rise the number of refugees from these parts of the world in the global refugee population.”
More than two-fifths of refugees hail from the Asia-Pacific region, largely from Burma, where the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people has forced many to flee its borders.
This trend also has created what Pew called a record number of Muslim refugees last year.
“At the same time, Christians continue to make up a large share of the refugees admitted to the United States,” the report notes. “In fiscal 2017, for example, a plurality of refugee arrivals were Christian (47 percent), with Muslims (43 percent) representing the second largest religious group.”
Pew found that Arabic is now the most-spoken language among newly admitted refugees, and a plurality have been children and adolescents, most of whom are male.
“Data on the age composition of the global refugee population is incomplete, but estimates suggest that the majority of refugees worldwide are children and adolescents below the age of 18,” the report states. “Consequently, a high share of children and adolescent refugees entering the U.S. each year is consistent with the makeup of refugees worldwide.”
California leads the way in refugee resettlement, followed by Texas, New York, Florida, Washington, Minnesota, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
The American South is becoming a more popular spot, as a region that welcomed 32 percent of all U.S. refugees in 2015 and 29 percent this fiscal year.