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Saying no to refugees: Wrong on every count

No room, the president says now. America is full, the president says. That is a lie.

Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center
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.
Office of Inspector General/DHS/Handout via REUTERS

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.

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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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