Jonathan Blitzer writes: In 1980, the year that Congress passed the Refugee Act, the U.S. accepted more than two hundred thousand refugees. The law created a robust program for accepting people who had been displaced by war and strife, and made refugee policy a new tool of American foreign policy, improving the country’s standing with foreign allies and helping the military and intelligence communities find partners in conflict zones. Since then, the mandated refugee “cap” set by the President has fluctuated; during the Obama Administration, it averaged seventy-six thousand, and, in 2017, Obama raised the cap to a hundred and ten thousand to allow in more Syrians fleeing civil war. Then came Donald Trump. In January, he signed an executive order temporarily freezing the refugee program, barring all Syrians, and slashing the number of refugees allowed into the country for the remainder of the year. Late last month, the White House announced that next year’s cap would be forty-five thousand, a record low. The State Department, the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Vice-President, and the Office of Management and Budget had wanted the number to be higher. But they had all been forced to compete with one influential White House official: Stephen Miller, the thirty-two-year-old former aide to Jeff Sessions who has become Trump’s top immigration adviser.
I recently spoke to four Administration officials involved in the refugee-cap process to try to understand how Miller was able to outmaneuver an array of powerful factions in the federal bureaucracy. Each official described Miller as a savvy operator who understands how to insert himself into the policy-creation process. They also described him as the beneficiary of a dysfunctional and understaffed Administration. Miller hadn’t completely gotten his way on the refugee cap, they told me; he wanted it to be lower. The forty-five-thousand figure—which past Administrations would have considered impractically low—amounted to a kind of compromise. [Continue reading…]