Bring them here

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

The vir­u­lent cries of “Send her back” echo­ing through Pres­i­dent Trump’s rally in North Carolina were far more than a racist chant aimed at Rep. Il­han Omar, who was born in So­ma­lia and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya be­fore em­i­grat­ing to the United States at age 12.

Those words, in all their nasty na­tivism, clearly sum­ma­rize Trump’s of­fi­cial pol­icy to­ward im­mi­grants like Omar. The pres­i­dent and his al­lies of­ten in­sist that they only re­ject law­break­ers -- those who cross our bor­ders il­le­gally -- but that’s flatly false. They are also slam­ming the door shut on sanc­tu­ary seek­ers who take en­tirely le­gal steps to get here.

This ruth­less and re­lent­less at­tack is Trump at his ab­so­lute worst, us­ing poor and vul­ner­a­ble im­mi­grants as pawns in his re-elec­tion cam­paign. If he truly un­der­stood this coun­try, if he re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated our role in the world, if he gen­uinely pro­moted our best in­ter­ests in­stead of our worst in­stincts, he would not en­cour­age his sup­port­ers to scream, “Send her back.” He would lead a cho­rus of “Bring them here.”

In pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion that con­demned Trump’s toxic tantrum (with only a hand­ful of Repub­li­can votes), the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives quoted the elo­quent words of Ron­ald Rea­gan, who signed leg­is­la­tion le­gal­iz­ing mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented for­eign­ers: “We lead the world be­cause, unique among na­tions, we draw our peo­ple -- our strength -- from ev­ery coun­try and ev­ery cor­ner of the world. And by do­ing so we con­tin­u­ously re­new and en­rich our na­tion.”

Asy­lum-seek­ers are im­mi­grants who ap­ply for protection af­ter reach­ing Amer­i­can territory; refugees are forced to leave their home coun­tries due to se­ri­ous threats to their lives or free­dom. Both are well-es­tab­lished, in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized con­cepts, and both are un­der fierce as­sault by this White House.

Just last week the ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued an or­der say­ing it would not grant asy­lum to any im­mi­grant who had passed through a third coun­try, like Mex­ico, to reach Amer­ica. “The rule, if up­held, would ef­fec­tively elim­i­nate asy­lum for those at the south­ern bor­der,” ACLU at­tor­ney Lee Gel­ernt told The Associated Press. “But it is patently un­law­ful.”

Trump tried a sim­i­lar ploy last year, deny­ing sanc­tu­ary to any im­mi­grant who did not cross the bor­der at an of­fi­cial tran­sit point. That ma­neu­ver was blocked by fed­eral dis­trict judge Jon S. Ti­gar, who wrote, “What­ever the scope of the pres­i­dent’s au­thor­ity, he may not re­write the im­mi­gra­tion laws to im­pose a con­di­tion that Congress has ex­pressly for­bid­den.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has suc­ceeded, how­ever, in cre­at­ing a process that sends asy­lum-seek­ers back to Mex­ico to await a hear­ing on their ap­peal. It has also tight­ened the stan­dards for el­i­gi­bil­ity so strin­gently that far fewer ap­peals suc­ceed. Last year only about 8% of asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions were ap­proved, down from 23% dur­ing Barack Obama’s first year in of­fice.

Charles Tjer­s­land Jr., an asy­lum of­fi­cer charged with en­forc­ing the Trump pol­icy, wrote an op-ed in The Wash­ing­ton Post de­scrib­ing the process as “a sick joke.” The stan­dards the ap­pli­cants must meet are “ridicu­lously nar­row,” he wrote, and as a re­sult, “An asy­lum sys­tem that was orig­i­nally de­signed to en­sure mi­grants are safe from harm now seems set up to turn away as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.”

Trump is also de­ter­mined to turn away as many refugees as pos­si­ble. Pres­i­dent Obama set an an­nual goal of ad­mit­ting 110,000 refugees dur­ing his last year in of­fice, but Trump has so stran­gled the sys­tem that only 22,500 refugees made it to Amer­ica last year, and for the first time, another coun­try, Canada, ad­mit­ted more refugees than the U.S.

Politico re­ports that anti-im­mi­grant cru­saders within the ad­min­is­tra­tion want to cut the refugee quota to zero in the fis­cal year start­ing in Oc­to­ber. That prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen, mainly be­cause of fierce op­po­si­tion from the De­fense De­part­ment, but dras­tic re­duc­tions -- and a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the en­tire refugee re­set­tle­ment sys­tem -- are al­most cer­tain.

“In the long term, it would mean that the ca­pac­ity and the abil­ity of the United States to re­set­tle refugees would be com­pletely dec­i­mated,” Jen Smy­ers of the Church

World Ser­vice, one of nine agen­cies that place refugees in com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try, told Politico.

Anne Richard, a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for refugee is­sues, said in the Catholic News Ser­vice: “It’s pretty clear the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to drive the U.S. refugee pro­gram into the ground.”

This is a tragedy on ev­ery pos­si­ble level -- a stain on our na­tional honor and a self­in­flicted wound that de­prives the Amer­i­can econ­omy of new­com­ers who “con­tin­u­ously re­new and en­rich our na­tion.”

Bring them here.•••

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by

email at steve­[email protected]

COKIE ROBERTS

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