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Rights Groups Warn Trump 'Jeopardizes Lives' with Cuts to Refugee Resettlement Program

The Trump administration is "trying to grind our refugee system to a halt and ensure that Black and Brown immigrants don't have refuge here."

The New York Immigration Coalition held a rally to call on the Trump administration to protect asylum seekers and the right to refugee resettlement in New York City on August 3, 2019. (Photo: Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The New York Immigration Coalition held a rally to call on the Trump administration to protect asylum seekers and the right to refugee resettlement in New York City on August 3, 2019. (Photo: Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Human rights experts Thursday denounced the Trump administration's proposal to limit refugee admissions to a new all-time low of 15,000 for fiscal year 2021 despite the sharp uptick in global need. 

"The number of refugees worldwide has grown by over 14 million over the last four years while the Trump administration has lowered refugee admissions levels by over 80 percent."
—Nazanin Ash, International Rescue Committee

Because the White House submitted its report to Congress just before midnight on the last day of fiscal year 2020—which was Wednesday—refugee admissions are now on hold until President Donald Trump signs a new order. 

"The delay in setting a refugee admissions goal for the new fiscal year leaves tens of thousands of the most vulnerable refugees in danger and in many cases separated from their families," said Nazanin Ash, vice president of public policy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). "They have followed all the rules and cleared all the security checks—sometimes waiting as long as two years for a lifeline to the U.S." 

Trump's recommended admissions goal of 15,000 is a further reduction from the record low of 18,000 set in the previous year, and it represents a drastic reduction from the refugee resettlement program's average cap of 95,000. 

The White House admitted only 11,000 refugees toward its historically low goal of 18,000 in fiscal year 2020. "Unprecedented attacks on the refugee admissions program have been a feature of this administration since week one," said Ash. 

"The Trump administration has shown a callous disregard for human life and hatred for Black and Brown communities," the ACLU wrote on social media. "They are trying to grind our refugee system to a halt and ensure that Black and Brown immigrants don't have refuge here."

According to the IRC, admitting just 15,000 refugees who fit into certain categories "leaves over 1.4 million of the world's most vulnerable refugees in need of resettlement."

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Ryan Mace, a senior policy advisor at Amnesty International USA, said the decision to set the cap at this historic low should be seen as part of a wider attack on the "life-altering" resettlement program.

"The vast majority of people in this country support welcoming refugees as their new neighbors," said Mace. "But the actions of President Trump demonstrate again and again that they do not listen to the people who eagerly want to do more—instead, they want to keep the door shut to anyone seeking safety who could make this country their new home."

The IRC's Ash noted that Trump's most recent proposal leaves "in limbo thousands who are waiting to reunite with their families in the safety of the United States," and "it also creates highly restrictive categories for which refugees can access the program—leaving refugees from many of the world's worst crises, especially those in Africa, locked out."

Ash continued:

The number of refugees worldwide has grown by over 14 million over the last four years while the Trump administration has lowered refugee admissions levels by over 80 percent, vastly reduced access to the program for Muslim and Black refugees, severely reduced the number of refugees persecuted on the basis of religion allowed into the country, and ignored the world's largest refugee crises. The administration has reneged on U.S. humanitarian obligations, trampled on long-held values, undermined U.S. interests and its own stated policy goals—including by failing to provide safety to thousands in need of refuge because of their assistance to U.S. troops or because of religious or political persecution.

Mustafa Jumale, political director for Voice for Refuge, stated that "for decades refugee resettlement was seen by both Republican and Democratic administrations alike as a common good and a moral necessity."

"It's a life-saving program that supports U.S. foreign policy, and refugees contribute greatly to the U.S. economy and culture." added Jumale. "Yet in just over three years, President Trump has cast basic human decency aside and shredded this historic program to tatters. His fellow party-members in Congress have done little to oppose him, shown by their complete lack of outrage over the administration violating the law and not consulting with them or their colleagues across the aisle."

"Because of this administration," said Jumale, "lives will be ruined, families will remain separated, and our legacy as a place of welcome will continue to diminish."

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