Why President Trump is Wrong About Refugees

Crowds gathered at DFW Airport on January 28, 2017. Photo by Stella M. Chávez, KERA News

History shows us time and again that America is at its greatest when we welcome refugees to our shores when they are most in need of safety, and at its weakest when we shut our doors out of fear.

This is a weak moment for America.

The horrific humanitarian consequences of President Donald Trump’s executive order to scale back the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — at a time when the world is enduring the largest forced migration in modern history — will be felt for years, if not decades, to come.

Some refugees will be at risk of losing their lives — including some who have provided life-saving service to the U.S. military and other U.S. initiatives overseas and who are now under threat due to that service.

Other refugees, already approved for resettlement in the U.S., have sold their few remaining belongings in preparation for travel and after having already undergone up to two years of security vetting. They will now be left in limbo, waiting for a refuge once promised to them that now may never come.

Over 70 percent of these refugees are women and children, and over 70 percent of these individuals are coming to the U.S. to join family members who already live here. Separating families needlessly is cruel and un-American. These are human beings — moms, daughters, grandparents in harm’s way right now. They are not dangerous and to claim otherwise is not only false but morally wrong.

By definition, refugees are people and families who face a threat to their safety in their former homes — they are distinctly non-violent. They know personally the horrors of violence, and like all people, they first want to be safe and secure.

As many have said, security and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Being tough on terrorism does not require being tough on refugees. Even so, the U.S. has already in place the most stringent refugee security-vetting process by any country in the history of the world. Refugees are by far the most heavily vetted of any individuals traveling to the U.S.

This executive order also undermines America's principles of fair and equal treatment of all people around the world regardless of race, religion or country of origin — core tenets of the U.S. Constitution and the founding of our country.

The enormously successful U.S. humanitarian refugee program is rooted in the long-standing American values of hospitality and compassion and has received significant bi-partisan support for decades through many presidents of both parties.

Throughout history, our nation has risen to the call, helping resettle tens of thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s, from Vietnam and Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s, from former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and from Africa over the years. They became productive, working American citizens, contributing and strengthening our society. Today, that same call is ringing for refugees from Burma/Myanmar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, among others. Many countries around the world have stepped up to do the right thing — to be humanitarian, to demonstrate compassion and empathy, to welcome the stranger, to lead our world by example into a more hopeful future.

Isolating ourselves from the world does not make us safer — it only isolates us. Our nation does not back down from what is right because of fear. That is not who we are. This executive order is rooted not in fact but in fear, which actually cedes power to terrorists who have terrorized the people our country now shuns. Those terrorist will use this as a rallying cry for years to come.

Lastly, to judge an entire culture or religion or nation by the actions of extremists within it not only destroys our ability to tap into the strength of the greater whole but discriminates against a whole group of people — discrimination that encourages the extremists in our society to harshly judge, bully, batter and abuse those who are different from them. Our teachers, mentors and the best among us have taught us for years that it is wrong to judge an entire group by the actions of one. Should all Americans be judged by the American mass shooters in Newport, in Columbine, or in Charleston?

We can never forget that this rationale to reject refugees based on their country of origin is the same rationale used by the U.S. to reject Jews who were seeking safety in the U.S. during WWII — many of whom were later murdered in Nazi death camps. These orders may have absolutely the same impact on another group of victims.

Because of its welcoming nature, Texas has been highly successful in welcoming and integrating refugees for many years. Over 85 percent of refugees resettled by Refugee Services of Texas achieve self-reliance within six months to become tax-paying contributors to their local communities and our country, and eventually American citizens. Texans are not afraid of refugees, because there is no factual reason to be. Refugees and former refugees are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends, our families, our loved ones. And the pain and memory that this baseless political rhetoric and persecution renews for them is to our shame.

We urgently request that President Trump rescind this executive order and demonstrate that America is not afraid of refugees. We respectfully ask him to show leadership for human rights and refugee protection during the current global refugee crisis — the largest of its kind since World War II.

Aaron Rippenkroeger

President and CEO, Refugee Services of Texas