America zeroes out refugees and morality

The White House is seriously considering reducing the number of vetted refugees entering the U.S. each year to zero. This would cut off the last hope for many who have already been cleared and are in a pipeline for resettlement to the U.S. In addition to the naivety of thinking that any nation in the world can completely close itself off from the world’s neediest people, such an action is inconsistent with American values and weakens our ability to affect change in the world.

For decades, American support of refugees and asylum seekers assisted diplomats in their efforts to encourage a shared global burden of protecting the millions fleeing violence and persecution. During my time working in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), we resettled just shy of 90,000 refugees per year. These efforts did more than provide safety for vulnerable families; resettling refugees also supported our foreign policy goals, undergirding our diplomacy and strategic alliances around the world. I can only imagine how difficult it is now for U.S. diplomats trying to take the moral high ground.

I often remember the stories that were told to me as I sat in the apartments of recently resettled refugees from my time monitoring refugee resettlement at PRM. Stories of people watching their children or parents being killed, hiding in jungles, drinking water from puddles, waiting, waiting, waiting, and never knowing how or when the journey would end. I recently spoke with a young man in a refugee camp in Bosnia who wants to go to Europe because he is unwelcomed in Bosnia. “All we do here is wait,” he said. They are waiting for countries to take the moral high ground and offer resettlement opportunities to those who are stuck between violence and hatred.

Moral suasion, the concept of being able to appeal to other governments to take certain actions, or to cease certain actions, has long been a basic and critical tool of U.S. foreign policy. It involves holding our allies to a basic standard of behavior, reminding other governments when their practices are a violation of human rights, international law, treaties and agreements. Sometimes moral suasion requires public statements by world leaders putting one another on notice. More frequently, it takes place behind the scenes in meetings between heads of state and diplomats when a country steps over the line. But moral suasion is only effective when the country doing the reprimanding is itself perceived to be respecting human rights and international treaties.

America can regain its moral standing while also maintaining our security. The racist, fear-based counterarguments we hear from President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE do not reflect the reality of the resettlement or asylum programs we have in place. We have the infrastructure, resources, and support to both process the claims of all asylees who arrive at our border in search of safety and welcome 95,000 refugees a year. There are dedicated government employees, resettlement agencies, and local places of worship eager and waiting to make it happen.

The ability to seek refuge is a basic human right. As U.S. citizens, maybe we should dismantle the Statue of Liberty and send it back to France along with the Paris accord, if we really don’t believe in what it takes to be a moral leader in the world anymore.

Rev. Jack Amick is a former refugee admissions program officer with the State Department, serves as the Director of Global Migration at the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and is on the Advisory Committee for Church World Service, a global humanitarian and refugee resettlement agency.