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Trump’s Retreat from American Values with Abhorrent Asylum & Refugee Policies

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In hard-hitting pieces for USA Today and TIME Magazine, refugee experts Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea and Barbara Strack highlight the ways in which the Trump administration’s efforts to end refugee resettlement are a retreat from American values. Strack, who recently retired after a long career at USCIS, is one of the most experienced experts on refugees and asylum policies in the country. Rev. Stanley-Rea is director of Disciples Home Missions’ Refugee & Immigration Ministries at Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

As the U.S. walks away from refugee resettlement and being a safe haven for asylum, both women argue we are wounding ourselves as a nation. As Strack points out, “Trump’s policy ignores humanitarian needs on every continent,” and “cements the U.S. retreat from our longstanding leadership as the most generous resettlement country in the world and diminishes U.S. influence over the violent and destabilizing roots of refugee migration.”

Rev. Stanley-Rea, for her part, writes, “Dismantling the U.S. resettlement program is wrong, and we all need to stand against any ban, reduction or rejection of refugees. It will deprive our communities of the many gifts offered by refugees, damage our historic commitment to be a welcoming nation, and especially harm refugee families themselves.”

Below are excerpts from the two pieces:

USA Today, Sharon Stanley-Rea: 

Resettlement is a refugee’s last option for safety. Less than 1% of the world’s nearly 26 million refugees will ever be resettled to a new country, and only the most at risk are even considered.

Refugees well along in the U.S. resettlement process are already languishing in camps, waiting for safety and reunification with loved ones. Now their waits may be longer; the Trump administration’s new admissions cap is 81% below the historical annual average of 95,000 across Republican and Democratic presidencies.

Afkab Hussein is a Somali refugee separated from his family due to the multiple Muslim and refugee bans. He arrived in 2015 with the promise that his wife and newborn son would be able to join him shortly after, he told me. Even though they were approved for resettlement nearly three years ago, Afkab is still waiting for his wife and son.

In my work among refugee colleagues for over 20 years, I learned of the life-sacrificing loyalty that Southeast Asian refugees provided the United States when we fought for years together against communism in their homelands. U.S. veterans regularly resurfaced stories, often with tears in their eyes, of how Hmong refugees saved their lives in the highland jungles of Laos whenever U.S. planes were shot down over their villages. Ukrainian refugee colleagues in our office likewise inspired me as they shared their courageous decisions to flee their birthplace in the face of religious persecution.

In TIME Magazine, Barbara Strack writes: 

  1. The Administration argues that overseas refugee resettlement needs to be low because domestic asylum claims are high. When he announced the new refugee ceiling, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan cited the need to deal with the crisis at the southern border and to reduce the asylum backlog as reasons for the decision. This is a smokescreen: in fact, the government can handle both. There are approximately 40,000 refugees overseas already approved by DHS, who are subject to rigorous security checks and health screenings before they can travel to the U.S. These 40,000 “pipeline” cases could still travel to the U.S. over the next 12 months.

  2. The Administration asserts that it is taking foreign policy into account, as if past administrations did not. Nonsense. Every administration has considered refugees’ humanitarian needs in the context of foreign policy and national security interests. Just a glance at the nationalities that have been prioritized over time — Vietnamese, Cubans and Iraqis (to name a few) — clearly illustrates the foreign policy dimension. The Administration also argues that we should prioritize assistance to refugees overseas in lieu of resettlement. This is misleading. Even at recent high-water marks for resettlement worldwide, 99% of refugees remain in host countries close to home, with monetary support from donors including the U.S. Voluntary return by refugees to their homelands is much desired, but rarely achieved at significant scale. The Trump policy simply leaves stranded the most vulnerable one-half of 1% of refugees who used to be identified for resettlement to the U.S. — including people with medical needs, survivors of torture and those who are not safe in their country of first asylum.

  3. The administration indicates that it is prioritizing three groups: refugees fleeing religious persecution, vulnerable Iraqis and Central American refugees. While the administration is setting aside a certain number of resettlement slots for these groups, the reality is that this is still a drastic cut to the number of people resettled in every category.

Religious persecution has been part of the refugee definition since 1951, and it has always played a significant role in the U.S. program. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Yazidis, Baha’is and others who have been persecuted have found safety and freedom to worship in this country. The Administration’s allocation of 5,000 slots to religious minorities represents a sharp dip from just a few years ago.

[…] Trump’s policy ignores humanitarian needs on every continent, cements the U.S. retreat from our longstanding leadership as the most generous resettlement country in the world and diminishes U.S. influence over the violent and destabilizing roots of refugee migration. Worse, it confirms to Americans and to the world that the new status quo of fear, division and racism in the refugee policies of the United States. We are not only leaving behind tens of thousands of refugee families at risk, but our own values and interests. The U.S. can and must do better.