If the United States wants to weaken its security, tarnish its brand and alienate people in troubled countries, turning away more refugees is the right approach.
Among the tragic decisions made by President Donald Trump, slashing the number of refugees allowed into the country may be the most cruel, un-American and harmful to the nation’s security and economic strength.
Congress must push back on Trump’s odious plan to admit only a maximum of 30,000 refugees in fiscal 2019 amid a global surge in displacement. The cap was 110,000 when Trump took office, and he slashed it to 45,000 last year.
The cap is just the tip of the iceberg, though, as the administration whittles away a program built over 40 years into a world model for vetting, resettling and saving many of the earth’s most vulnerable people. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed this by noting 280,000 asylum-seekers are now being processed — but that highlights bureaucratic inefficiency, not compassion.
This cruelty is why Americans cannot shrug off xenophobia and dog-whistles to far-right nationalists that Trump spouts on the world stage, be it on Twitter or at the United Nations podium. Unchecked, such vitriol leads to harmful policies that increase human suffering.
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Americans must ask how they benefit. Does it project strength and leadership for America to turn its back on children and families fleeing harm and persecution who saw this country as their best hope? What does it say about the values and piety of an administration that, facing strangers in need, won’t take them in?
If the United States wants to weaken its security, tarnish its reputation and alienate people in troubled countries — ceding ground to tyrants and terrorist recruiters — this is the right approach.
Washington state knows better. It became a leader in helping refugees under a Republican governor, Dan Evans, who championed resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees after the Vietnam War. It continues to be one of the top 10 states for admitting refugees.
Spokane Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-highest ranking House member, believes the U.S. can and should accommodate more than 30,000 refugees this year, according to a spokeswoman. That’s a good start. Now it’s time for McMorris Rodgers, who is in a tight race with Democrat Lisa Brown, to show that her seniority can be put to good use reversing the refugee cuts. This will take finesse, as presidents only have to “consult” with Congress on the cap under the 1980 Refugee Act.
So far this fiscal year, Washington received about 1,800 refugees, including about 300 4-years-old or younger, according to Beth Farmer, director of Refugees Northwest, a program of Lutheran Community Services Northwest. The largest numbers came from Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Because of Trump’s travel ban, virtually no Syrian refugees are arriving, despite millions being displaced. Also plunging are refugees from U.S. allies such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Kenya that are struggling with the number of refugees they’ve taken, Farmer said.
Meanwhile businesses continually call organizations like Refugees Northwest and World Relief in Spokane, seeking refugees who gladly take jobs that aren’t being filled by American-born workers, such as overnight jobs at airports, hotels and factories.
“When you work with these folks, you see their strength, you see their resilience and you know what that means for the strength of our economy and the strength of our communities,” Farmer said, adding that “they do the work that many other people don’t want, and with that they have this incredible patriotism and love for the United States, which reminds me what is so precious here.”
That buttresses a report, suppressed by the Trump administration, that found refugees are a tremendous investment — they become productive citizens, pay taxes and start businesses. They generated a net gain of $63 billion over the decade from 2005 to 2014, according to the Department of Health and Human Services report leaked last September.
Really, though, Americans who attended elementary school don’t need federal reports to know refugees and immigrants have always been critical to our nation’s growth and success. That’s been true for hundreds of years.
More recently, the son of a Syrian built Apple into the world’s most valuable company. Steve Jobs also created the made-in-China iPhone that Trump, grandson and husband of immigrants, uses to bash globalization, stoke fear of foreigners and snuff America’s beacon of hope with bilious tweets.
Congress and the people must not let this continue.