Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement on Sept. 17 that the United States will cap its intake of refugees at 30,000 for fiscal year 2019 was swiftly denounced by humanitarian groups and advocates, many of them Catholic, who said the decision represents an abdication of moral leadership in a world facing the worst migration crisis since World War II.
The Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, the bishop of Austin, Tex. and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, lamented the government’s decision.
“The announcement of the Presidential Determination is deeply disturbing and leaves many human lives in danger,” he said in a statement. “To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation.”
“To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution...contradicts who we are as a nation.”
Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies and the Scalabrini International Migration Network in New York, in an email to America, wrote: “U.S. refugee resettlement is a life-saving tool that is an important component of our humanitarian protection policies. Reducing the refugee cap to an all-time low leaves tens of thousands of refugees, many whom have gone through the vetting process, in imminent danger.”
Joan Rosenhauer, the executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service, told America that the announcement, while not surprising, signals indifference in the face of an ongoing emergency. “The need is greater,” said Ms. Rosenhauer, “and the U.S. is doing less and less all the time.”
Ms. Rosenhauer raised concerns about both the intake announcement and the data on recent resettlements. “It’s definitely a significant break from the previous administration,” she said, “which was growing the number of refugees that were accepted and welcomed to the United States.” The new cap of 30,000 and the number of refugees resettled in the past year (roughly 21,000) are the lowest since the program was created in 1980.
“Reducing the refugee cap to an all-time low leaves tens of thousands of refugees...in imminent danger.”
Secretary Pompeo said in his statement that “the American people must have complete confidence that everyone granted resettlement in our country is thoroughly vetted.”
The resettlement timeline typically spans two years and is characterized by a multi-pronged vetting process, said Ms. Rosenhauer. The United Nations, the State Department and other governmental organizations are involved at various stages.
“Our perspective is that the vetting process is very robust,” said Ms. Rosenhauer. “It takes years for people to get through it and to be resettled.... It’s impossible to imagine that we need to do more. So much is already done.”
She implored the government to act with compassion. Migrants “have faced incredible threats to themselves and their families,” she said. “Every time I meet a family that has been affected by [violence, war or conflict], I’m challenged to think about what I would do as a mother. And the fact is that I would do what was necessary to protect my children from that violence.”
“The future is going to be grim if we turn our back on children.”
In his statement, Mr. Pompeo assured that these reductions would be tempered by sustained efforts abroad to aid and defend the rights of displaced persons.
“As President Trump established in the National Security Strategy and in his speech last year at the United Nations General Assembly,” he said, “we are maintaining our enduring humanitarian commitments by working to assist refugees and other displaced people as close to their home countries as possible, thereby increasing the number of displaced people who have received aid and protection.”
This June, the organization Refugees International released a “report card” tracking the administration’s record on migration; it scored an overall grade of F. Domestically, according to the report, asylum seekers have faced criminal prosecution. Internationally, the administration has “proposed cuts of about 30 percent [that] would have dramatically reduced U.S. food aid, ‘zeroed out’ a critical refugee emergency fund, eliminated a key fund used to support programs like UNICEF, and significantly reduced contributions to peacekeeping activities.”
According to Ms. Rosenhauer, the resources that “allowed for very efficient resettling...[are] being undermined now because the numbers are so low.” In the long run, she believes these steps will only weaken the infrastructure already in place to support refugees by chipping away at funding.
Most alarming, said Ms. Rosenhauer, is the trauma left in the wake of unremitting war, conflict and gang violence. Left unsupported, children bear the brunt of these experiences for the rest of their lives.
“The future,” she said, “is going to be grim if we turn our back on children.”