The Editors: Slashing refugee numbers is unethical and harms our country

(CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) 

In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of refugees from a continent ruined by war and facing massive population shifts as the victors redrew national boundaries sought entry to the United States. Our nation responded in 1948 with legislation allowing more than half a million refugees to seek a new life on our shores. They came from Europe.

In the decades following, U.S. policy toward refugee resettlement remained generous. Wave after wave of refugees from Communist nations found a new home in the United States, including Koreans, Chinese and Eastern Europeans. Again, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands more from Vietnam and elsewhere in Indochina were resettled here. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the United States has resettled more than three million refugees since 1975. In 1980 alone, the United States resettled more than 200,000 refugees, including more than 125,000 from Cuba.

Advertisement

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the number of refugees allowed in the coming year will be 30,000, the lowest ceiling in almost four decades.

This is a stark reminder that our contemporary U.S. policy is completely at odds with our national rhetoric around resettlement—that we are a refuge for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The Trump administration’s antipathy toward refugees and immigrants is, of course, a matter of public record. President Trump promised a “Muslim ban” in his presidential campaign and argued that Syrian refugees could be a danger to the country. He has also decried immigrants from African nations, which he called “s***hole countries.” But this new ceiling still manages to shock and dismay. It is 15,000 lower than even in 2018, when the United States resettled the lowest number of refugees since the creation of the program.

It should go without saying that there is little justification for such a callous and indifferent response to refugees at the exact moment that the United States enjoys its strongest economy in a generation. Similarly, we cannot simply turn our backs on refugees from nations decimated by disastrous U.S. military interventions of the past several decades; we have a moral and ethical obligation to these populations. Despite President Trump’s rhetoric to the contrary, few of them have chosen to leave their homes. They were driven from them, and often by regimes we considered our allies.

A ceiling of 30,000 refugees for 2019 is not just an ethical catastrophe. It is bad public policy.

Even in the world of realpolitik, however, slashing refugee numbers makes little sense. A generous refugee resettlement policy has multiple benefits beyond its ethical necessity. It fosters good will and cooperation with poorer nations struggling to accommodate transient populations (and, in the process, decreases the chances they will be pulled into the orbits of Russia or China); it helps to stabilize nations that border on conflict zones and could be drawn into larger wars; and it allows the United States to reward the loyalty of populations who assist our foreign policy aims (for example, translators and guides in Afghanistan and Iraq who helped save U.S. soldiers’ lives). A generous resettlement policy also gives us credibility when it comes to leaning on other nations to harbor large populations of refugees.

It is also worth noting that a 2017 report from the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that between the years of 2005 and 2014, refugees had contributed more than $269 billion in federal, state and local taxes—far more than they received in government assistance.

A ceiling of 30,000 refugees for 2019 is not just an ethical catastrophe. It is bad public policy.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Muslim beliefs are antithetical to western ideas and they should be resettled in areas amenable to their beliefs. In case someone wants to claim religious bias, then I have no qualms with any other religion. For the best interests of these refugees find a country that is compatible with their beliefs.

Again I ask the editors to openly state what their recommended immigration policy is.

Advertisement

The latest from america

How can we spare the time to let others know of our care and concern?
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 11, 2018
The paralytic’s friends might have told him in dismay, “Let’s come back another day when it is less of a hassle.” But that is not what they said.
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 10, 2018
There is scarcely a parent alive who has not at some point uttered the words, “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 09, 2018
The three questions God asks Adam and Eve lay bare the threefold nature of their wrongdoing.
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 08, 2018