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Historically Low Refugee Goal Betrays U.S. Values

By Rachel Gore Freed on September 18, 2018

The Trump administration announced plans on Monday to resettle at most 30,000 refugees from around the world in Fiscal Year 2019 – the lowest cap since the U.S. refugee program began in 1980. This announcement comes in the midst of the world’s largest displacement crisis on record, with more than 68.5 million people in flight from their homes.

Moreover, the administration’s record on admissions so far suggests it is unlikely to meet even this inexcusably low target. In the current fiscal year, the administration is on track to resettle only 22,000 refugees – less than half of its declared admissions cap for 2018 of 45,000 people.

UUSC’s President and CEO, Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, joined other faith leaders in demanding better of our government. “History has shown time and again the deadly consequences of closing our borders to people fleeing danger,” said Morn. “It is particularly disgraceful for the United States to turn its back on vulnerable refugees when our government is fueling human rights violations in Yemen, Honduras, and elsewhere that are forcing many from their homes.”

In announcing the administration’s new quota, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the government was motivated to set a low goal in part because it needs to focus on assisting asylum-seekers and meeting the nation’s other humanitarian obligations.

This argument represents a new low of hypocrisy, coming from an administration that has recently sought to separate asylum-seeking parents from their children as a deterrent, to criminally prosecute asylum-seekers, to block access to asylum for women fleeing gender-based violence, to end Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of people, and to terminate a special humanitarian resettlement program that saved the lives of Central American children.

In reality, Monday’s low refugee target is in line with previous derogatory and racist comments made by the President about Muslims, refugees, and people of color, as well as the administration’s declared “America First” foreign policy. Reuters reports that the number of Muslims admitted to the United States through the refugee program has shrunk by a third under the Trump administration, while the percentage of Europeans entering through the program has tripled. Countries with violent human rights situations, such as Burma were once prioritized for refugee admissions under the Obama administration—this has changed with calculated restrictions.

Among the refugee populations who have been most harmed by the administration are those fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia – all conflicts in which the United States has played an active role. According to Reuters, refugees from 11 nations dropped from accounting for 36% of refugee admissions from 2002 to 2016 to fewer than two percent of recent admissions. Current U.S. policy is therefore blocking access to people fleeing violence to which the United States has directly contributed. Reportedly, even interpreters who risked their lives to work with U.S. troops in Mideast wars are being denied entry.

The United States has previously been a world leader in resettlement, taking in the largest number of third-country refugees of any nation. The administration’s recent decisions turn their back on this legacy, as well as on the lessons of the past. The refugee resettlement program exists in large part due to the world’s failure to save lives during the Holocaust, when the United States and other nations denied entry to thousands of Jewish refugees. In resurrecting a slogan and policy – “America First” – that was used by U.S. isolationists of the 1930s, Trump threatens to carry our nation back to one of its worst chapters.

Against this effort, people of faith and conscience continue to demand better from the United States, as one of the most powerful countries on Earth. “The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is to respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the foundation of which is the human right to survive,” said Rev. Mary Katherine Morn. “We join in calling our nation to live by its best and most honorable principles by devoting resources to the furtherance of life, not the machinery of death.”

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