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Saying no to refugees: Wrong on every count

Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center
Office of Inspector General/DHS/Handout via REUTERS
An overcrowded fenced area holding families at a Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center is seen in a still image from video in McAllen, Texas, on June 11, 2019.

No to refugees. No to asylum seekers. That is the one-two punch delivered by the administration this month to our national commitment to human rights.

The Trump administration says it wants a zero ceiling on refugees for 2020. In fiscal year 2018, we admitted only 22,491 refugees. We are on track to admit maybe 20,000 this year, probably even fewer. Before 2018, during four decades of current U.S. refugee law, we admitted an average of 95,000 per year.

We resettle fewer refugees, in proportion to our population, than other countries. In 2017, Canada resettled 725 refugees per 1 million residents. Australia resettled 618 refugees per million residents. Norway: 528. In the United States, we resettled only 102 refugees per 1 million residents in fiscal year 2017 — and that’s before the drastic cuts made in the past two years.

The plan to end refugee admissions in 2020 follows an illegal order that virtually ended asylum admissions on July 16. That order says any asylum seeker who has passed through any other country may not apply for asylum in the United States. Under U.S. law, asylum seekers can only apply for asylum if they are already in the United States or at an authorized point of entry. For almost all asylum seekers, that means they must pass through another country to get here. This order effectively ends asylum — and denies any possibility of asylum to tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have followed this administration’s previous order to wait in Mexico for a chance to apply.


Back in 1939, the U.S. government turned away a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Nazi regime. The ship eventually dropped these passengers in European countries, many of which were later overrun by Nazis. Hundreds of the refugees turned away by the United States were captured and killed in Nazi concentration camps.

photo of article author
Lenore Millibergity
Anne Frank’s father tried repeatedly to get his family to safety in the United States. The U.S. immigration bureaucracy demanded more papers, lost his documents, imposed new restrictions, and ultimately delayed so long that the family was captured and taken to concentration camps as the Nazis occupied the Netherlands.

Now, after imposing ever more onerous restrictions on asylum seekers, after delaying and restricting their applications at the border, the administration refuses to accept any asylum seekers at the southern border. In 1939, the United States turned back Jews seeking asylum, telling them to go back to find some other country, to go back to Europe. The countries of Europe were not safe. We did not care.

Now the United States turns back all asylum seekers at the southern border, telling them to find some other country, to stay in Mexico or Guatemala or anywhere else. Mexico and Guatemala are not safe. We do not care. Once again, the United States says no to people fleeing persecution, torture, and death.

No room, the president says now. America is full, the president says. That is a lie. Immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, contribute skills and talent and hard work to this country. We need them as much as they need us.

This administration’s attempts to bar refugees and asylum seekers betray our country’s commitment to give safe haven to people fleeing persecution.

Lenore Millibergity is the interim executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/24/2019 - 09:52 pm.

    Trump was elected in part because Democrats and Republicans ignored illegal immigration for a generation, allowing those illegal immigrants to help reduce the cost of manual labor.

    Why is Mexico so dangerous? Because of Clinton’s NAFTA, flooding Mexico with GMO corn, emptting rural lands of farmers, the backbone of community, allowing then Drug Cartels to take over rural Mexico (and how many good jobs went south?)

    There are probably 2-3 billion people in this over-crowded world who are persecuted in some form. Are we obligated to take them all in? In this “growth” obsessed world, how many does it take before America becomes a dystopia (more than it is for so many)?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/25/2019 - 10:28 am.

      The idea that immigration has driven down labor costs has been proven false repeatedly. Trump may have been elected on that premise, but like many other things Trump said, it was a lie. Immigration is good for the economy.

      The idea that we have to take them all in is a strawman. No one is proposing that. But we should take in the refugees we can, which is far more than being let in now. Again, doing so will benefit this country, not bring about a dystopia.

      “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beaide the golden door.”

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/25/2019 - 03:11 pm.

        “The idea that immigration has driven down labor costs has been proven false repeatedly.”

        Like many a Democrat, you do not make a distinction between immigration and illegal immigration. And like most Americans, you seem to think that the economy and the population can grow eternally. Since 1970, the global population has doubled…and since 1970, most of the number of other living things on earth have been cut in half or more. How does adding millions of people to America help the poor in America, or the land, waters, pollinators, etc wild things?

        As for labor costs, sure there are plenty of studies that will make excuses as to why illegal immigration has not affected labor costs. Now show me and the people here the evidence that labor income (which is different than labor costs) for the bottom 50% of Americans has increased since 1970 relative to production/GDP. Because I can assure you, it has not…not even close…

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/26/2019 - 08:39 am.

        “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beaide the golden door.”

        This sentiment was perhaps appropriate to the 19th century, when global population was about 6 billion less than what it is now, and America was still mostly undeveloped (less appropriate perhaps if you are Indigenous American). Now that we are 330 million here in America, we have a severe housing crisis in most major cities, drug epidemics and financial anxiety corroding republic, systemic pollution, elite corruption, pollinator extinction, etc problems, that sentiment seems in need of revision.

        That said I am not against immigration. I have long advocated for amnesty for those here illegally, who have shown they can be good citizens. I am merely wary of a sentiment from the left that seems reactionary in the face of Trump’s immigration stance, as though Democrats want to send a message to migrants that Democrats would open the borders and allow in anyone fleeing trouble at home.

        The population of America cannot grow indefinitely, just as the population of the earth cannot. Growing our population indefinitely will put even more strain on ecosystems, and more strain on social cohesion. We need to start looking less without and more within.

  2. Submitted by Gail Harris on 07/25/2019 - 07:20 am.

    The Holocaust began with economic hardship. El Salvador’s financial hardships are no less dire than Jewish Americans.
    https://go-gale-com.content.elibrarymn.org/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=Primary&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&searchType=TopicSearchForm&currentPosition=1&docId=GALE%7CEJ2159000237&docType=Nonfiction+work%2C+Excerpt&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=ZXBK-MOD1&prodId=SUIC&contentSet=GALE%7CEJ2159000237&topicId=00000000MKMU&searchId=&userGroupName=mnsminitex&inPS=true

  3. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/25/2019 - 08:38 am.

    You forgot the piece on how a so called billionaire can be so selfish, hostile, and greedy vs refugees, hopefully his supporters, supposedly religious folks, never find themselves in similar refugee positions, although it would be true justice.

  4. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/25/2019 - 02:48 pm.

    “The idea that immigration has driven down labor costs has been proven false repeatedly.”

    Like many a Democrat, you do not make a distinction between immigration and illegal immigration. And like most Americans, you seem to think that the economy and the population can grow eternally. Since 1970, the global population has doubled…and since 1970, most of the number of other living things on earth have been cut in half or more. How does adding millions of people to America help the poor in America, or the land, waters, pollinators, etc wild things?

    As for labor costs, sure there are plenty of studies that will make excuses as to why illegal immigration has not affected labor costs. Now show me and the people here the evidence that labor income (which is different than labor costs) for the bottom 50% of Americans has increased since 1970 relative to production/GDP. Because I can assure you, it has not…not even close…

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