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Former Government Officials Condemn Trump Administration for Slamming Door on Refugees and Damaging America’s Moral Leadership

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This week, 18 faith and civic leaders were arrested at the U.S. Capitol protesting to draw attention to the Trump Administration’s plans to slash America’s refugee program. Remarkably, one of those arrested, Anne Richard, ran the refugee resettlement program for the Department of State for many years and left out of disgust at the decimation of the refugee program under Trump, Miller and Pompeo.

As DailyKos’ Gabe Ortiz reports about the civil disobedience at the U.S. Capitol, “‘Risking handcuffs pales in comparison to what refugees risk every day to live simple lives in peace and freedom,’ said Rev. John McCullough. ‘As a representative of the faith community, I could not in good conscience sit idly by as Secretary Pompeo came to Capitol Hill to get a rubber stamp on his woefully inadequate and cruel proposal.’ Those arrested in the protest were wearing orange life vests, Amnesty International said, as ‘a symbol of the life-saving refugee resettlement program.’”

Below are two pieces penned by former government officials, the first by Anne Richard, formerly of the State Department; the second by Paul Grussendorf, a former immigration judge; refugee officer for the UN Refugee Agency; and refugee officer for the U.S. government. Excerpts below.

Anne Richard, writing in Newsweek: “I’m a Former Assistant Secretary of State. Yesterday I was Arrested Protesting Secretary Pompeo’s Policies on Refugees:” 

Yesterday, I was one of 18 protestors arrested in front of the U.S. Capitol Building to call attention to Trump Administration moves to shut down a lifesaving program for refugees. As the former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, I never expected to risk arrest protesting a current Secretary of State. But I decided to take this bold stand because the Trump Administration seeks to destroy not just a Federal program, but an American tradition of serving as a sanctuary for the threatened and persecuted that stretches back to the Pilgrims. If the Administration succeeds, it harms some of the most vulnerable people on earth—and the rest of us, too.

The demonstration was held just a few short hours before Secretary Pompeo met with Congress, as required by law, before finalizing this year’s refugee admissions cap—18,000—the lowest cap in the history of the resettlement program. That was the significance of 18 people getting arrested; each represented 1000 refugees we might take.

Since the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) was authorized by Congress in 1980, the United States has set an average refugee cap of 95,000 refugees each year. But President Trump has made drastic cuts. In 2018 he set a cap of 45,000, followed by a cap of 30,000 this past year—each a historic low. And then just weeks ago, he set the cap for 2020 at 18,000—an 80 percent cut from the average. At that low rate, the resettlement program will barely continue to exist.

…The program has always had bipartisan support, since policymakers on both sides of the aisle understand that by resettling refugees, the United States serves as a moral leader and annually renews a promise on which our country was founded. Resettlement also supports U.S. foreign policy interests, including the fragile regional stability in the Middle East. Supporting the countries that host refugees through investment, humanitarian aid, and resettlement is essential as globally more than 70 million people are displaced, including more than 26 million refugees. By taking in some refugees, the U.S. can encourage other countries to keep their doors open and allow refugees to work and refugee children to attend school. That’s key to mitigating conflict, restoring dignity to those who’ve fled and ensuring a future for millions of young people.

But the numbers aren’t the whole story. Trump policies will have alarming long-term consequences. The administration will no longer rely on the UN Refugee Agency to identify and refer some of the neediest cases to us. The administration hasn’t planned any “circuit rides”—the trips when officers from the Department of Homeland Security travel to interview refugees abroad to determine if they qualify. And already we see the network of faith-based and non-profit agencies that help refugees across America closing offices, turning away staff and volunteers and severing longstanding ties with landlords and employers willing to take a chance on energetic workers who, while legal, have no credit history or local references. These measures are shutting down a carefully constructed refugee pipeline and will make it harder for the United States to resettle more refugees in the future.

And that means a lot more heartbreak for refugees in harm’s way and for families waiting to be reunited – including those who are already screened and approved and who we’ve promised to protect. 

Paul Grussendorf, a former immigration judge; refugee officer for the UN Refugee Agency; and refugee officer for the U.S. government, writes in the Baltimore Sun: “Trump abandons US leadership role regarding refugees:”

Ever since Donald Trump assumed the presidency on a tide of vile hatred and racist attacks on Mexican migrants, the administration has been chipping away at our asylum laws and protections for refugees. As someone who has been part of this system for decades as an immigration judge and refugee officer and most recently a supervisory asylum officer, I have an up-close view of just how destructive Trump’s chipping away at the system has been — and how despicably dishonest and mendacious his stated rationales for it really are.

…This administration’s family separations policy — ripping children from their parents to serve as a deterrent to asylum seekers, and detention of children in unsanitary cages without adequate supervision — reached levels of cruelty unmatched in modern history. Multiple attempts to block refugees from even reaching our southern border have been implemented. The white nationalist cabal that is running the president’s immigration policy is pulling all the stops in turning a system of humanitarian protection into one of rejection.

The director of the asylum division in the Department of Homeland Security, one of the most respected managers in the agency, has been replaced because he was an experienced advocate for the rights of asylum seekers. The so-called Third Country Transit Rule bars practically all asylum seekers arriving at our southern border who haven’t first sought asylum in hyper-violent countries such as Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala, even though none of those countries can provide safety for their own citizens, let alone for refugees, and even though none of them have an adequately functioning asylum administration that would make the rule meaningful.

Where are the days when Ronald Reagan welcomed refugees to our shores? Trump continues to claim that the entire asylum system is fraudulent, that it is a “big, fat con job.”

When I was interviewing Salvadorian minors in San Salvador in 2016, as part of our government’s Central American Minor (CAM) program, I heard hundreds of painfully credible cases of teenage kids who had been given the ultimatum of either joining criminal gangs or being killed; of parents who had been told that they could either turn over their daughters to an ultra-violent gang or see the eradication of their whole family; of children who had witnessed the violent deaths of parents or siblings, and been informed that they would be next if they didn’t agree to sell drugs or serve as look-outs for gangs.

The so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which require that asylum seekers at the southern border be warehoused in Mexico pending their scheduled appearance in immigration court, has resulted in the return of some 50,000 migrants to border cities where they are subject to assaults, kidnappings and murder.