With the excitement of the holidays passed, America is settling into the new year with a familiar milieu of daily life. Yet, there is something markedly different about our country, and barring an exceptional public outcry, or a sudden surge of moral courage in the halls of Congress, it will negatively affect hundreds of thousands of people around the world for years to come.
It has been a year since the Trump administration began systematically dismantling the refugee resettlement program, and its quiet progress is remarkable.
The United States is projected to accept 15,000 refugees this year — a record low since the inception of the refugee resettlement program. Despite being in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the United States’ legacy as the global leader in refugee resettlement, the Trump administration has decided to close our country to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
We have a long history of welcoming refugees, albeit begrudgingly at times due to misconceptions and unfounded fears. The prelude to World War II saw America reject hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees in part due to concerns they could be spies and criminals — in other words, a security threat. Sound familiar?
Refugees undergo the most rigorous immigration and security-screening process of any person entering the country. They pose virtually no threat. Since the implementation of the refugee resettlement program in 1980, no deadly terrorist attack in the United States has been perpetrated by a refugee.
Opponents of refugee resettlement argue that the program could have severe consequences. And in that regard, they’re correct — refugees have proven to be an economic boon. Studies show that refugees quickly become self-sufficient, and pay more in taxes than they’ve received in public benefits. A Department of Health and Human Services study found the United States profited $63 billion through payment of local, state and federal taxes made by refugees from 2005 to 2014.
Refugees are twice as likely to own a business as the general population, have higher workforce participation rates, and have nearly identical higher education attainment rates. The benefits reach far beyond their economic impact, as they contribute socially, culturally and in myriad other ways.
After the clumsy execution of the first refugee ban resulted in mass outcry and legal challenges across the country, the White House was forced to reassess its strategy to end refugee resettlement. While rumors of the executive branch’s incompetence have swirled, there is evidence to the contrary. The latest attacks on refugee resettlement have been subtle, carefully crafted and — most important — effective.
While we continue formally to accept refugees, those arriving have slowed to a trickle (which has the added effect of forcing numerous resettlement agencies to shutter). Many refugees are trapped in limbo, stuck in the mechanisms of a purposefully underprepared bureaucracy; others can’t satisfy onerous requirements that make it virtually impossible to qualify for resettlement; and countless more continue to face an outright ban.
As we approach the first anniversary of the refugee ban, we must remember the refugees around the world who view America as it was intended: a beacon of hope.
While the Trump administration seems determined to surrender the United States’ position as a leading advocate of humanitarianism, we, the people, must not abandon our commitment to refugees. Do not allow the end of refugee resettlement to be normalized; we must demand that our elected officials take action to preserve the life-saving refugee resettlement program.
Christian Hawkins works as a refugee advocate at a refugee resettlement agency. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.