The barometer’ of cruelty to migrants
Another milestone in America’s retreat from global leadership passed on Monday when the Trump Administration announced that it will cap refugee admissions next year at 30,000, by far the lowest ceiling since the present programme was established in 1980. The total is about a third of the number admitted in 2016, the last year of the Obama Administration.
Judging from this year, even that paltry goal may overstate actual admissions, as officials use bureaucratic means to cripple the programme.
In announcing this abdication, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it should not be misread as “the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world”.
That’s a fair point. A “barometer” would include a raft of other programmes and initiatives the administration has used to intimidate, deter, remove, oppress and, in some cases, terrify other groups of vulnerable migrants, including many who aspire to enter this country or who are already here: thousands of Central American parents and children forcibly separated as a means of dissuading their compatriots who might follow.
More than 400,000 Hondurans, Salvadoreans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and others who lived and worked lawfully in the United States for many years before the administration announced it would terminate their legal status, insisting it was safe for them to go home. Some 700,000 “dreamers” — mostly teens and twentysomethings reared and educated in this country — whose lawful status the administration has struggled mightily to revoke.
Pompeo raised the spectre of a terrorist threat as a rationale for slashing refugee admission, but he failed to mention that none of the three million refugees who have entered the United States over the past four decades has been arrested for committing a lethal act of terror in the country.
In gutting the refugee programme — slashing admission not just for foreign Muslims and Yazidis but also for Christians — the administration insisted it was focusing resources on asylum seekers, who are already in the US. That appears to be true — some officers previously deployed to screen refugees have been shifted to process asylum cases.
Simultaneously, however, the administration has ensured that fewer migrants are likely to succeed with their asylum claims as a result of the ruling by Attorney-General Jeff Sessions that victims of gang and domestic violence no longer qualify.
Fact-twisting has been central to the administration’s crusade against refugees. It has portrayed the programme as a security risk even as vetting is tighter than ever. It tried to suppress a government report that found that refugees’ economic benefit exceeded their cost by $63 billion over the past decade.
Since 1980, through Republican and Democratic administrations, the US has admitted an average of 80,000 refugees annually. This year, the number is likely to be a little more than 20,000. That guts US diplomatic leverage to encourage other countries into accepting larger portions of the world’s 25 million refugees and diminishes America’s moral power and prestige. Day by day, the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan held up as an exemplar, and that so many foreigners once admired, shines a little less brightly.