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Human Rights Leaders Arrested at US Capitol Protesting 'Cruel' Trump Plan to Slash Refugee Cap

"We are sending a strong message to the administration that the country we want to live in is one where we take care of people who need safety and we are not afraid to be silenced."

Leaders of faith and human rights groups

Leaders of faith and human rights groups were arrested on Capitol Hill Tuesday for protesting the Trump administration's refugee policies. (Photo: CWS/Twitter)

As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met privately with members of Congress Tuesday to discuss the President Donald Trump's push to cut the U.S. refugee cap to a record low, a group of human rights and faith leaders were arrested at the Capitol for protesting against the administration's "destruction" of the Refugee Resettlement Program.

The 18 leaders arrested—a nod to the administration's proposal to accept no more than 18,000 refugees in the next fiscal year—were joined Tuesday by supporters who held 95 photographs of refugees to recognize the country's historic average cap of 95,000 people annually.

"It's well past the time for the president to stop abusing his power to demonize people seeking safety and for this country to welcome refugees once again," said Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang, who was among those arrested. "Today we are sending a strong message to the administration that the country we want to live in is one where we take care of people who need safety and we are not afraid to be silenced."

Rights groups have strongly condemned the Trump's proposal to slash the refugee cap since it was announced by the State Department in late September. As Common Dreams previously reported, the administration wants to reserve several thousand spots for particular refugees, including people persecuted on the basis of religion, Iraqis who assisted U.S. forces, and residents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Before their arrests, leaders explained their motivations for joining the action Tuesday.

Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, said that "as a representative of the faith community, I could not in good conscience sit idly by as Secretary Pompeo came to Capitol Hill to get a rubber stamp on his woefully inadequate and cruel proposal."

"Risking handcuffs pales in comparison to what refugees risk every day to live simple lives in peace and freedom," said McCullough. He urged Pompeo to heed calls for compassion from people across the country rather than "Trump's basest fears."

The Immigration Hub's director of policy, Sarnata Reynolds declared that "Trump's nonstop action to dismantle the refugee program is motivated by racism, contempt, and an utter disregard for American values."

Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of the group America's Voice, concurred.

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"Opening our hearts and our arms to refugees from around the world is foundational to the American experiment," he said. "I am proud to stand up for one of America's finest traditions, and I am heartbroken that this administration recklessly trashes it."

Anne C. Richard, former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, pointed out that "the program once had strong bipartisan support, since policymakers on both sides of the aisle understood that by resettling refugees, the United States serves as a moral leader and annually renews a promise on which our country was founded."

"By taking in some refugees, the U.S. can encourage other countries to keep their doors open and allow refugees to work and refugee children to attend school," she explained. "That's key to mitigating conflict, restoring dignity to those who've fled, and ensuring a future for millions of young people."

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, drew on his own experiences to warn about the global consequences of the Trump administration's proposal.

"As a Palestinian American who was born and raised in a refugee camp," he said, "I can say with absolute certainty that drastically cutting the U.S. refugee resettlement program by 80 percent will directly impact those seeking shelter inside our nation, diminishing their safety and our nation’s standing."

"At this time, Congress should be considering how to raise the refugee cap," Awad added, "and not accepting the Trump administration's systematic destruction of how immigrants, especially those of color, become U.S. citizens."

Susan Gunn, director of Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, agreed that "now is the time to welcome refugees."

"Given the many ongoing and emerging displacement crises around the world," she said, "we will not stand by idly as the United States turns its back on these individuals."

Other leaders arrested Tuesday included Sarnata Reynolds, former counsel for the House Judiciary Committee; Only Through US executive director Susannah Cunningham; Revs. Michael Puckett and Seth Kapper-Dale; and Sr. Maria Orlandini, advocacy director of Franciscan Action Network.

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