Congress Blog

The tragedy of lowering the refugee acceptance rate must be reversed

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

For generations, America has been a beacon of light for those fleeing the worst regions of darkness.

In less than two years, Lady Liberty's torch has grown dimmer as Donald Trump's administration shuts our doors to those seeking to become a contributing part of the American experience.

What began with a travel ban has morphed into a bureaucratic war of attrition. At every turn, Trump has erected barricades to clog the flow of immigrant resettlement in the United States.

The enactment of the 1980 Refugee Act marked a repudiation of America's closed borders and opened the doors anew to the world's neediest. Since its passage, the average annual refugee admissions goal has been 95,000. In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. resettled 84,995 refugees.

Entering 2018, Trump slashed the refugee cap from 110,000 to just 45,000. At the time, this marked the lowest rate ever set by the United States. And yet, the administration has exceeded its own malice: so far this fiscal year, the U.S. has not come close to meeting its own pathetic goals, accepting just 20,825 refugees.

recent report has revealed the administration is intentionally slowing America's refugee acceptance rate. NBC found that faced with a litany of onerous and unnecessary new procedures, the FBI and other agencies have been unable to process more than a trickle of refugee applicants. Trump has cut staff and erected cumbersome roadblocks to gut our refugee program from within.

Trump and his aides claim that turning our backs on refugees is about national security, that new, stringent protocols take time to develop, and the humanitarian crisis involving asylum seekers deserves our primary focus. This is nonsense, geared towards pitting refugees against asylum seekers.

Refugees undergo the most thorough screening process of anyone coming into the United States. Vetting for each refugee applicant covers a series of rigorous steps involving fingerprinting, biometric data checked against terror and criminal databases, and multiple interviews with security and intelligence experts. The entire process typically takes two years per refugee.

This process was in place well before Donald Trump appeared. They were effective too, successfully resettling more than 3 million refugees into America's quilt of communities since 1975. And with just under 320,000 individuals reportedly seeking asylum here by the end of June that have passed the "credible fear" threshold, the administration is vastly overstating its workload.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill have refused to hold hearings on Trump's lies. They are not interested in making this administration answer for its poisonous policies.

Trump's attempts to lock out refugees undermines our international leadership, our relationship with democratic partners, and the same national security Trump claims to care about.

The black mark on our moral standing is as clear as when our nation condemned Jews fleeing Nazi Germany on the S.S. St. Louis to a doomed fate. In Trump's America, we are no longer helping carry our share of the global refugee crisis. Our hypocritical refusal to shoulder the load while pressing our allies to do more harms our ability to work together on other issues.

In countries with more volatile political environments, the stampede of refugees threatens to destabilize regional security. And by blocking entrance to newcomers, we contribute to the false narrative that America is antagonistic to impoverished peoples.

Our disregard for refugees could not have come at a worse moment as the world continues to endure the largest refugee crisis in history. Over 68 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, including more than 25 million refugees and 3 million seeking asylum. Of the refugees, approximately half are children.

It is important to understand who these human beings are beyond components in a statistic. This group includes Syrian Christians displaced by their nation's brutal civil war; Africans under the thumb of religious persecution; and Rohingyas trying to escape genocide by the Burmese military junta. They are people in desperate situations seeking a better life.

With our colleagues, we have led several efforts to get answers from the administration on its foot-dragging. We will continue to highlight the callous indifference and prod it to fulfill America's obligations to our citizens, to the needy, and to the world community that relies on us.

But the news has already gotten worse. On Monday, the administration set the figure for 2019 refugee admissions at just 30,000. In making the announcement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extolled America's "generosity."

This is the latest indignity from a president that defiles our nation daily. We despair that before 2020, the resettlement figure may be set close to zero. We put nothing past this White House and its current inhabitants.

By shutting our doors to the world, we are robbing those who suffer from finding security and opportunity. At the same time, we are denying ourselves of a new generation of immigrants to help replenish our social fabric.

This is a tragedy that must be set right. Refugees deserve America's warm embrace. We must be a beacon once more.

Pascrell represents the 9th District of New Jersey. Cicilline represents Rhode Island's 1st District and Jayapal represents Washington's 7th District.