Cokie and Steven V. Roberts: The true American spirit
By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts
Here’s an issue that’s not getting nearly enough attention: President Trump’s assault on refugees. Not only is it bad public policy, it’s a deeply immoral violation of the country’s most basic values.
The refugee issue has been largely overshadowed by Trump’s inflammatory attempt to bar travelers from six Muslim-majority nations — a plan that was partly upheld by the Supreme Court. Barely noticed was the court’s decision to sustain Trump’s order blocking all refugees for 120 days and limiting America’s annual intake to 50,000.
Immigration lawyers think they can loosen those strictures by arguing that some refugees have “bona fide” attachments, in the court’s language, to American relatives and institutions.
But the bottom line is clear: At a time when the global refugee crisis is worse than ever, Trump is trashing the American tradition of welcoming the world’s most vulnerable outcasts.
“The court’s ruling will leave refugees stranded in difficult and dangerous situations abroad,” said Hardy Vieux, legal director of the pro-refugee organization Human Rights First, to The New York Times. “Many of these individuals may not have ‘bona fide relationships’ but have strong reasons to look to the United States for protection.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees documents the extent of this crisis. More than 65 million people worldwide have been forced from their homes. More than 22 million are classified as refugees, meaning they’ve crossed international boundaries seeking sanctuary. More than half of those refugees are children.
“The willingness of nations to work together, not just for refugees but for the collective human interest, is what’s being tested today,” says Filippo Grandi, the UN’s chief refugee official.
The Obama administration was slow to meet that test but greatly accelerated its efforts to help refugees during its last months in office. For the fiscal year ending last September, the U.S. accepted 85,000 refugees and announced a target of 110,000 for this year.
The new president, by contrast, is failing Grandi’s test. During Obama’s final four months, the U.S. took in 32,000 refugees; during Trump’s first four months, only 14,000 were admitted. Last October, 1,297 Syrians were accepted; in May, only 156. The figures for Somalis dropped from 1,352 to 294; for Iraqis, from 1,323 to 221.
Trump insists his policy protects national security. “We must keep America SAFE,” he tweeted after the court decision. But there is no evidence — absolutely none — to support his claim that refugees pose a threat to the country’s safety.
The Migration Policy Institute examined almost 800,000 refugees who have resettled in the U.S. since 9/11 and concluded: “Exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities.”
The reason is obvious, said the institute: “The refugee resettlement program is the least likely avenue for a terrorist to choose. Refugees who are selected for resettlement to the United States go through a painstaking, many-layered review before they are accepted. … The process typically takes 18 to 24 months, with high hurdles for security clearance.”
Trump is flat-out wrong. Refugees are a benefit to the country, not a threat. A new report by the think tank New American Economy says that refugees earned more than $77 billion in household income in 2015 and paid almost $21 billion in taxes. “Rather than a drain on communities, the high rate of labor force participation of refugees and their spirit of entrepreneurship instead sustains and strengthens their hometowns,” said the report.
A final point: The process of resettling refugees reflects the American virtue of community self-help at its very best. Local volunteers, most belonging to faith-based organizations, provide these refugee families with their basic needs, from jobs and rides to groceries and apartments.
In Bethesda, Maryland, the Washington suburb where we live, three different congregations — Presbyterian, Jewish and Muslim — jointly sponsored a refugee family from Afghanistan and raised enough money to support them for a year.
“We got pro bono help for them with medical, dental and housing,” says Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer of the Bethesda Jewish Congregation. “We have 90 members between the three congregations that came together to work on this project.”
Hamdi Ulukaya, an immigrant from Turkey, founded the highly successful Chobani yogurt business in upstate New York and employs many refugees. “The minute they get a job, that’s the minute they stop being refugees,” Ulukaya told “60 Minutes.” “They are the most loyal, hard-working people right now in our plant here.”
As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s birthday, there’s no doubt that Ulukaya understands the true spirit of America a lot better than Donald Trump.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at email@example.com.