Recently the Trump Administration announced that the U.S. refugee resettlement cap for the coming fiscal year would be set at 18,000. The 1980 Refugee Act allows the President to set a limit on the number of refugees that will be resettled in the U.S. each fiscal year. The 18,000 limit represents a slashing of refugee resettlements for the third straight year by the Trump administration and is the lowest capset since the Refugee Act has been implemented. Of course, the Trump Administration’s slashing of refugee resettlement numbers is just a part of the administrations broader hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. which includes the administration’s travel ban and its family separation policy at the southern border. This broad anti-refugee/asylum seeker policy agenda by the Trump administration was also pushed by Republicans prior to President Trump’s election. After the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, 30 Governors, 29 Republicans and 1 Democrat, stated that they would not allow Syrian refugees to be resettled in their states (despite the 1980 Refugee Law placing refugee resettlement in the purview of the federal government). Then Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence tried to sue one of the refugee resettlement agencies in his state, Exodus International, to stop them from resettling Syrian Refugees (the case was dismissed). This was on top of Texas Senator Ted Cruzin 2015 introducing legislation in the Senate that would have barred any refugees from Syria or Iraq from resettling in the U.S. Recent polling on the issue also shows Republican’s turning against refugee resettlement. The Pew Research Center has found that Republicans are significantly less likely to support refugee resettlement than either Democrats or Independents (insert hyperlink). The American National Election Survey found similar findings among Trump voters in contrast to Clinton voters.
These anti-refugee/asylum seeker policies by the GOP represent reversal of longtime support from Republicans and conservatives for refugee resettlement. Our recent research shows that just a few years ago more conservative states in the U.S. resettled more refugees than more liberal states. We found that from 2002-2010 conservative states resettled more refugees (per 100,000 people) than liberal states. We measured the ideology of a state using a measure developed by William Berry and colleagues that measures the ideology of a state’s citizens and political leaders using a variety of inputs such as a state’s Congressional delegations voting patterns, the outcome of elections in the state, the partisan division of the state legislature, and the party of the Governor among other factors. Although the strength of the relationship is not large the difference between more liberal states and more conservative states is statistically significant and contra our hypothesis, and if one is judging the GOP’s views on refugees just since President Trump emerged in office contra those expectations as well. More important however than political ideology when predicting which states will resettle more refugees than others is the political culture of the state. In the mid-sixties, the Political Scientist Daniel Elazar wrote that the fifty states in the U.S. conform to one of three styles of political culture (with some states sharing traits from two styles): traditional, individualistic, and moralistic. According to Elazar political culture consists of a state’s view of politics and the functions of government. For traditional states their view is that politics is paternalistic and should be the activity of elites while the function of government is to preserve the existing status quo. For individualistic states politics is viewed as a marketplace and the function of government is to handle only those functions demanded by their constituents. Moralistic states, in contrast, view politics as centered on the public good and the function of government is to pursue the betterment of the commonwealth.
On average states with a moralistic political culture resettled more refugees than either states with an individualistic political culture or a traditional political culture. Political culture is distinct from ideology in that moralistic states can be more politically conservative or politically liberal (same goes for individualistic and traditional states). We can see this in the pattern of refugee resettlement as well. Take two states – North Dakota and Minnesota both are states with a moralistic political culture according to Elazar but Minnesota is a politically liberal state whereas North Dakota is a more politically conservative state. However, both states are numbers one and three in terms of the average number of refugees resettled per 100,000 people during the years under consideration in our study. From 2002 to 2010 North Dakota resettled on average 72 refugees per 100,000 people and Minnesota resettled 51 refugees per 100,000 people on average.
Refugee resettlement is strategically,economically, and morally the right thing to do for the U.S. Republicans and conservatives have a long history of supporting refugee resettlement and that is a tradition hopefully the party and ideological movement will get back to soon. Some prominent conservatives are already leading the way. The Republican Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, recently sent a letterrequesting that more refugees be resettled in Utah. Of course, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise since Utah is also a state with a moralistic political culture.