This administration’s attacks on immigrants and refugees are so relentless

Getty Images

Just last week, it was reported that the administration is considering an executive order giving states and local governments the power to bar the resettlement of fully vetted refugees within their borders. 

The next day we heard that they are trying to end the practice of granting automatic citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. That was followed by news that the administration no longer considers children of U.S. soldiers and government employees stationed outside the U.S. as “residing in the U.S.” for purposes of acquiring citizenship.

When will it stop?

Refugees come into the United States via the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), a program established by act of Congress in 1980. Under the program, refugees from distressed areas of the world (areas plagued by war and violence) apply first to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for entrance.

The UNHCR vets them and assigns each to signatory countries for resettlement — a process that can take years. Before final approval, the United States subjects each applicant to a second investigation, searching for any evidence of crime in their former homelands. 

Only after clearing these hurdles are refugees permitted entry into the United States and placed on a track toward citizenship, a track that will take a minimum of six years for most to achieve.

We are a nation of immigrants. U.S. law is founded on the principle that citizens and those approved for entrance into our country are afforded the right to travel and live wherever they please. Our ancestors moved to wherever they saw the most opportunity and prospect for happiness and fulfillment. 

In some ways, the U.S. Refugee Admissions program replicates this matchmaking system by trying to match refugees and their skill sets against the needs of communities. Just ask Utica, New York, where the city is actively recruiting refugees who have settled in other states to move to the city to address a labor shortage and jumpstart the economy. 

Or Akron, Ohio, where an influx of refugees turned around a devastating population decline and contribute $17 million in state and local taxes in 2013. 

But the government is not alone in managing refugee resettlement. It relies on religious communities and the support of organizations such as my own, as well as Catholic Charities and many other non-governmental and community-based agencies who help ease refugees into their new homeland.

Since 1975, the U.S. has welcomed over three million refugees from around the world. Roughly 35,000 non-citizens are serving in active duty military and about 8,000 join each year. When we compare native born Americans to documented immigrants, the least likely demographic to engage in crime is the latter.

Beyond those numbers is the reality that resettled refugees contribute greatly to the economic life of our communities. They hold jobs, start businesses, raise families, and pay taxes. Refugees contributed $21 billion in in taxes in 2015 alone. Over a 20-year period, refugees contributed $21,000 more in taxes than the initial investment to resettle them.

We are a nation founded on core principles that proclaim inalienable rights “that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We placed a statue on the entrance to New York harbor inviting the world to “give me your tired, your hungry, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We have not, admittedly, always been true to those values. 

We forced tens of thousands of Native American children to attend boarding schools in the late 19th century in an attempt at forced assimilation. We were once a slave-holding nation. We have discriminated against immigrants in our past by completely barring some nationalities and subjecting others to quotas. 

But we have grown over time; listen if you will to the whisperings of our better angels. Today, those core principles present at our founding stand at the very center of refugee resettlement.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore, Md. Her family fled Sri Lanka and sought refuge in the United States when she was nine months old.

Tags Cultural globalization Demography Immigration to the United States

More Immigration News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video