In the past three years, the Trump administration has taken unprecedented actions to slow the flow of refugees to the United States and undermine the foundations of the world’s largest refugee resettlement system. This article considers both the empirical substance of the White House’s anti-refugee policies, as well as their broader theoretical significance as a critical example of the Trump administration’s so-called “administrative deconstruction” agenda. Analyzing refugee policy as a theory-building case study, this article advances a novel argument reframing the administration’s actions through the lens of strategic disruption
. Short of systemically deconstructing targeted programs, I contend that the Trump administration is engaged in an improvisational and deliberately antagonistic campaign to upend existing policies for the sake of disruption itself. Ultimately, Trump’s open disregard for established laws and conventions is a distinguishing feature of the administration’s approach, which limits its ability to implement lasting and legally binding change. In the case of refugee resettlement, this approach has produced a series of temporary and highly controversial policies, which have done measurable harm to refugees and humanitarian aid organizations. However, the legal and institutional foundations of the resettlement system remain firmly intact.
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