In Texas, we are all America

In reaction to a travel ban implemented by President Trump, the First English Lutheran church in Austin held a vigil for refugees on Jan. 30, 2017. Photo by Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

This week marks one full year that refugees, immigrants and other vulnerable populations have been targeted by a slew of bans and negative policy changes by the current White House.

One year ago, Americans of all backgrounds courageously flooded U.S. airports to demand that refugees who were being denied entry into America under the false pretense of national security concerns be allowed entry.

Americans will be remembering this shameful anniversary during the “We Are All America” week of action from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3. This national campaign is intended to support and further our American resolve for welcoming and protecting the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Because it is not happening on anywhere near the scale that’s needed.

In 2017, the United States anticipated resettling 110,000 refugees. Only 53,000 made it.

In 2018, 45,000 refugees are proposed to arrive. At the current rate of approval under White House restrictions, only 20,000 refugees may actually make it.

In Texas, approximately 4,700 refugees were welcomed in 2017. In 2018, the current projection is closer to 2,000.

By any measure, these numbers represent a moral failure on the part of the richest country on Earth.

The anniversary of the first travel ban is a good time to remind ourselves of these facts about refugees:

  • Against the backdrop of the worst global humanitarian crisis in modern history, with over 65 million people displaced from their homes, denying refugees the opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S. is completely counter to our long-held values as Americans and Texans. And as the U.S. turns them away, this only continues to signal to countries around the world that they may do the same, leaving millions of families, women and children stateless and directly in harm's way.
  • Refugees come to the United States fleeing persecution and violence and to build a better life. They are the most thoroughly vetted people in the history of our country and arrive only after authorization by multiple security agencies. No lethal act of terrorism has ever been committed in the U.S. by a refugee. Refugees are not a danger and to intimate otherwise is a heartless falsehood.
  • Studies show that refugee families who arrive to the U.S. quickly become self-sufficient, productive, tax-paying citizens. The federal government’s own research recently concluded that refugees contributed $63 billion more to the U.S. economy than any benefits they received over the past decade. They also strengthen the cultural diversity that has been core to this country's success from its earliest days.
  • The United States was founded by refugees and it has served as a beacon for them and the world for its entire history. Refugees are part of the moral fabric of our nation, they have always served the country well and will continue to do so into the future. America has historically welcomed an average of more than 90,000 refugees per year since the U.S. Admissions program was formalized in 1980.
  • Never has a bipartisan issue like saving innocent people from violence become a point of such contention. It was not a contentious issue for President Ronald Reagan, whose highest annual refugee admission cap was 140,000, more than three times the 2018 cap. Nor was it a contentious issue for George H. W. Bush, whose highest annual refugee admission cap was 142,000 — the highest among living presidents.

Last year was marked by division and strife, but 2018 does not have to repeat this pattern. This year, let us all stand in solidarity with the survivors of war and genocide, and together make it a year of unity, cooperation and compassion.

I encourage all Texans to contact their elected representatives, faith leaders, and fellow citizens to speak out on behalf of refugees and a compassionate welcome.

This cannot be the time to turn our backs on women, children and families in need of help, or abandon who we have always been as Americans. Let us take back the moral compass that has guided this country for centuries and that led America to being the greatest and strongest country in history. Let us not continue to sink into an isolated and fearful country full of despair for the future, absent of human morality, led by distorted information in pursuit of a xenophobic ideology, devoid of reality or objective fact.

In 2019, when someone asks, “Where are the refugees?” I hope we Americans in Texas can proudly answer, “They’re here. They made it home.”

Aaron Rippenkroeger

President and CEO, Refugee Services of Texas