Another Slap at Refugees
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 16, 2020
Perhaps lost in the flurry over Donald Trump’s coronavirus infection, a Supreme Court nomination, and the general noise of the election’s final weeks has been another blow for legal immigration, another smack at allowing refugees into the United States.
In the last couple of weeks, the Trump administration decided to lower the number of refugees allowed to enter the country once again, to no more than 15,000 — about half of what was true for the last year, and down from nearly 100,000 when Trump entered office.
For those charting this by numbers, this new level would be the lowest refugee admissions cap since the program began 40 years ago, a record the administration has broken every year Trump has been in office — even as the number of refugees worldwide has increased.
For those looking for the larger context, the announcement came amid campaign rallies in which Trump’s anti-immigrant policies brushed up against his pretty rawly racist attacks on his ever-growing list of enemies.
As Catherine Rampell, the Washington Post columnist, noted, “Never say that President Trump isn’t efficient. In one fell swoop, he managed to betray his country’s humanitarian interests, its national security interests, its economic interests and even his own narrow political interests to boot.”
The Trump administration has made no secret of its disdain for inviting asylum requests, particularly from Central America. It has been a central tenet of administration thinking that refugees — and the perception that this is a form of illegal immigration — somehow lessens the security of the country.
Indeed, this new policy and lowered numbers has not kicked in yet, and while it is not in place, no refugees are being admitted. Last year, a full month passed before the first refugee entered the country.
The Case for Refugees
There had been a longstanding view that America was taking in those left rootless by war, illness and violence because doing so reflects our basic national values. All those references to the Statue of Liberty and its appeal to those fleeing religious persecution and political violence, reflect us as generous, and that offering a home to the world’s most vulnerable is what we do.
Of course, doing so also has made economic and national security sense, not only adding workers but also taking in people turned enemy to authoritarian regimes around the world. Last year, the United States had authorized 4,000 slots for Iraqis who have risked their lives assisting U.S. forces but admitted fewer than 200.
The refugee issue has been argued and re-argued repeated during the last four years. Refugees are among the most highly vetted immigrants, sometimes forcing a wait of two years or more. And admitting refugees does show this country in its best role in a world of conflict, something good in a world of greed.
As Rampell notes, although refugees may arrive penniless, often with little or no English-language skills, “they have demonstrated remarkable aptitude for economic and cultural integration and upward mobility. Multiple studies — including one written by the Trump administration, which then tried to bury the results — have determined that refugees are net-positive fiscal and economic contributors to the United States. They start businesses in higher numbers than native-born Americans and have helped revitalize struggling communities in places such as Oklahoma City and Buffalo.”
The only category of immigrant visas to grow lately has been for seasonal workers of the type who are hired at Trump Organization’s own properties.
The Political Question
So, if the Trump administration sees no benefit from humanitarian concerns or even the self-interest of economics or national security, is it to his partisan political benefit?
Anti-immigrant rhetoric is a standard part of the Trump campaign speech, often linking all Democrats from Joe Biden on down to what he sees as socialist, leftist, and totally anti-American speech-making by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN, a Muslim woman who came to this country at the age of two from Somalia and has been elected to the Congress. It’s as if Omar, who opposes most Trump policies, is used as a poster image for all refugee families that Trump wants to return from where they had come and stop criticizing him.
Trump thinks anti-immigration, anti-refugee statements are helpful to him.
But then, he thinks choosing not to denounce white supremacy is helpful to him.
Again from the numbers, Americans have become more pro-refugee since Trump took office, with 73 percent saying it is important to take in refugees escaping war and violence (up from 61 percent in 2016). High-profile conservatives and Christian religious leaders have sought to raise the refugee admissions ceiling.
“The only constituency helped by Trump’s latest cruelty are the bigots and knee-jerk nationalists crafting his policies. For the rest of us, it represents an incalculable loss,” argues Rampell.