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Opinion

September 24, 2018

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Refugees in the US

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the US would reduce the cap on its refugee program to a new low of 30,000 people in 2019. This is the second such reduction by the administration. In 2017, this year’s limit was reduced from 110,000 to 45,000, and only about 20,000 people have so far actually been admitted. By comparison, in the last year of President Barack Obama’s tenure, the US admitted more than 80,000 refugees.

In his speech justifying the dramatic cut, Pompeo claimed that the US has a “longstanding record of [being] the most generous nation in the world when it comes to protection-based immigration and assistance” – a questionable claim – and went on to announce the new and far lower cap, which he attempted to justify “in consideration of both US national security interest and the urgent need to restore integrity to our overwhelmed asylum system”. Pompeo put a positive spin on the dramatic reduction, saying, “The improved refugee policy of this administration serves the national interest of the United States,” without explaining how. He ended his speech by pompously claiming, “We are, and continue to be, the most generous nation in the world.”

A day later, apparently in response to a letter by Democratic Sens Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin stating that the president needs to consult Congress when making such changes, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the 30,000 figure Pompeo had announced was only a proposal.

But whether or not Trump obtains congressional permission to reset refugee limits, he is doing so by fiat, and quietly through internal changes. Melissa Keaney, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, explained to me in an interview that the discretionary destruction of the refugee program is essentially a backdoor implementation of Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’. “For individuals from these Muslim-majority countries that have been targeted through the latest version of the Muslim ban – [they] are feeling the worst repercussions. Their numbers are 98 percent worse than they were under the Obama administration”, she said.

A recent Reuters investigation found that the government has slowly whittled away the program “through procedural changes made largely out of public view” and that “the administration has reshaped the US refugee program, slashing overall admissions and all but halting entry for some of the world’s most persecuted people, including Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Somalis.”

The administration has done so in various ways, including through reassigning the staff of the Refugee Assistance Program. For example, Reuters reports, “it has reduced by nearly two-thirds the number of officials conducting refugee interviews.” As a result, the Reuters investigation found that only “251 Somali refugees have been resettled in America this year, a 97 percent drop from the 8,300 admitted by this point in 2016.”

Additionally, the Trump administration’s national security justification for cutting the refugee program’s scope is not based in fact. Trump’s executive order implementing his Muslim ban after his inauguration triggered a review of the existing refugee resettlement program. According to Reuters, “the review concluded that refugees from all countries could safely be allowed to enter with some tightening of vetting, according to seven current or former U.S. officials who helped formulate or were briefed on the findings.”

However, “White House staff, including [Stephen] Miller and [John] Kelly, were not happy with that conclusion.” So Trump and his cohorts ignored the results of their own review and spun a “national security” imperative out of thin air to implement what they wanted to do all along: curtail the entry of brown-skinned foreigners, and especially Muslims.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Trump Is Strangling the US Refugee Program to Death’.

Courtesy: Commondreams.org

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