Our obli­ga­tion to refugees

With so many peo­ple flee­ing war and per­se­cu­tion, Trump would be heart­less to let fewer into the U.S.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

War, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and per­se­cu­tion around the globe have sent more peo­ple – about 66 mil­lion – run­ning for their lives than at any other time in mod­ern his­tory. The num­ber, though, ob­scures the scope of the hu­man drama — masses of peo­ple of all ages seek­ing dis­tant shores in un­sea­wor­thy boats, trekking across deserts or jun­gles to reach dusty and over­crowded tent colonies or, for the lucky, squat­ting un­cer­tainly in apart­ments in strange cities, their futures at best on hold, at worst al­ready dis­ap­pear­ing.

De­spite the grow­ing ac­cu­mu­la­tion of hu­man mis­ery, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing an even more cold­hearted re­sponse: re­duc­ing for the sec­ond straight year the num­ber of refugees the U.S. will ac­cept an­nu­ally for per­ma­nent re­set­tle­ment. To do so would be a fur­ther re­pu­di­a­tion of the na­tion’s moral tra­di­tion of of­fer­ing a haven to those who have no chance of a fu­ture in their home coun­tries.

The num­ber of dis­placed peo­ple the U.S. ac­cepts for re­set­tle­ment has fluc­tu­ated wildly over the years. Pres­i­dent Obama ini­tially low­ered the ceil­ing to 70,000 , but last year in­creased it to 110,000 in re­sponse to the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis around the Mediter­ranean Sea. (That’s not a hard cap; close rel­a­tives of the re­set­tled of­ten can be ad­mit­ted, too.) Pres­i­dent Trump, though, al­most im­me­di­ately cut the cap to 50,000, and now some in his ad­min­is­tra­tion want to lower it to 40,000 or fewer in the next fis­cal year.

Re­set­tling refugees has, un­for­tu­nately, be­come con­flated in the minds of many with over­all im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, which grants le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus to more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple a year. And while it in­volves im­mi­gra­tion, re­set­tling refugees is more than that. It’s an act of mercy, and the U.S. has his­tor­i­cally led the world in giv­ing the most des­per­ate of the dis­placed an op­por­tu­nity to build a per­ma­nent new home.

Un­der the process, the United Nations High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees de­ter­mines that cer­tain dis­placed peo­ple have no rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion of re­turn­ing to their na­tive lands. Af­ter an ex­tended vet­ting process, the UNHCR refers in­di­vid­ual refugees to a coun­try in which it be­lieves the refugees stand the best chance of suc­cess. Refugees re­ferred to the U.S. are then vet­ted again by the State De­part­ment and De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity; none of the 3 mil­lion refugees re­set­tled in the U.S. since 1980 has killed any­one here in an act of ter­ror.

Even those peo­ple who be­lieve that we should tighten up the bor­der and re­duce le­gal and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion ought to stand up for the long-held prin­ci­ple (too of­ten ig­nored) that Amer­ica should be a place of refuge for des­per­ate peo­ple flee­ing per­se­cu­tion. Not all of them, of course, but when the world is con­fronting a refugee cri­sis of the cur­rent mag­ni­tude, we should be open­ing doors to more of the des­per­ate, not fewer.

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