A Letter to my Legislators (and anyone who cares) on Demanding the U.S. Maintain its Refugee Resettlement Program

Recent Reports indicate that the Trump administration is considering a virtual shutdown of refugee admissions next year — cutting the number to zero or nearly zero.  But, the refugee determination does not need to be made until next month, meaning there is time to insist that this life-saving program is not put to an end.

The possible move comes after the Trump administration cut refugee admissions by a third this year, to 30,000.  The historic norm for refugee resettlement as set by the annual Presidential Determination averages between 75,000 and 95,000 people.  In 2016, the US welcomed about 85,000 refugees.  Ever since then, the Trump administration has dropped that annual figure again and again. At the current pace, the United States won’t come close to hitting the 30,000 ceiling set for this current fiscal year.

Unlike asylum seekers, refugees apply for protection from overseas, and undergo some of the most stringent vetting of any US arrivals, typically waiting two years or more to enter the country.  Refugees have historically posed very little terror or national security threat, and according to an analysis earlier this year by the libertarian Cato Institute, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack by a refugee is about 1 in 3.86 billion per year.

While one may assume that cutting refugee admissions will allow more resources to be used for asylum seekers, the administration has also sought to greatly reduce the availability of asylum by issuing a sweeping regulation that would block migrants who pass through another country en route to the U.S. from seeking asylum (choking off the majority of asylum claims).  It is clear that the administration is not seeking to allocate resources to the most needy; instead it is intending to channel resources towards keeping the most needy out of the United States.

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

With the Trump administration reducing the number of refugees the United States accepts to historic lows, the nation’s longstanding refugee resettlement program has changed dramatically, leading to major layoffs and closures of refugee resettlement offices around the country, run by agencies such as World Relief and Church World Service.

There are over 70 million displaced persons worldwide, including over 25 million refugees. While the U.S. used to be a world leader in providing safety and freedom to some of the world’s most imperiled refugees, we are now falling behind Canada, for example, which has a ninth of our population.

According to World Relief President Scott Arbeiter, “Our national commitment to welcoming refugees goes back at least to the era of World War II, when Jewish men, women and children displaced by the Nazis often had no safe place to which to flee. In the years that followed, the U.S. committed itself to protecting those forced to flee persecution, offering safety and religious freedom to some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, who have become grateful Americans – and who give back to this country many times over. We must not abandon this stabilizing role or those in desperate situations and in need of a safe haven.  Americans of faith should recognize and respond to this assault on our call to protect the ‘least of these’ – especially as a country where most citizens profess to be Christians.”

Not to mention that the President has promised again and again to protect persecuted Christians – something he cannot do without accepting refugees.

Not only will we not be able to protect persecuted Christians, but we will not be able to protect those who have risked their lives assisting U.S. forces in Iraq.   The proposal for a near-shutdown of the refugee program is alarming officials at the Department of Defense, who contend that abdicating the commitment to Iraqis who worked with U.S. military — many as translators and interpreters — could threaten U.S. interests in addition to the obvious humanitarian concerns.  Among the Iraqi applicants referred to by the Defense Department, only 140 have entered so far this year. More than 100,000 remain in the queue.

Currently, nearly 9,000 refugees are approved to travel to the U.S and more than 29,000 refugees have completed USCIS interviews, a major step in the process (undercutting the argument that the U.S. can’t handle processing 30,000 refugees next year).  Reducing the number to zero would strand thousands of people already far along in the process and debilitate resettlement agencies who process refugees.

Closing our borders to refugees is un-American and indefensible.  Please stand up for the vulnerable by demanding that our refugee resettlement programs remain active, and return to accepting refugees at former levels of 75,000 to 95,000.  Please demand that the United States regains its identity as a nation that welcomes those in need.


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