As the Trump administration turns its back on refugees, Texas stands ready to welcome them

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

More than 68 million refugees and displaced persons around the world are pleading for relief from war-torn environs and over-crowded camps. They lack nutritious food, adequate shelter and education for their children. Clean water is a constant concern. They would do anything for the opportunity to rebuild their lives in peace and safety.

Meanwhile, in the most prosperous nation on earth, the Trump administration has just set the 2019 refugee admissions cap at a paltry 30,000 — the lowest level in U.S. history.

That’s despite the fact that our nation is prepared to take in at least 75,000 refugees, according to the Refugee Council USA, a coalition of U.S.-based humanitarian agencies. The many volunteers from religious organizations, civic groups and other nonprofits that devote time to helping the least among us make this possible. But we can only help as many as are allowed to come into our country.

America’s authority on matters of human rights has already slipped. Although the Trump administration set the admissions cap at a record low of 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, only 21,000 are likely to be admitted by the end of the year — less than half of the promised number. Administrative roadblocks have been constructed to limit admissions, providing false justifications for further reductions. Those numbers are staggeringly low and nothing short of an abdication of our moral responsibility to protect vulnerable human beings.

The administration’s systematic attack against refugee families appears aimed at completely dismantling the refugee resettlement program. A series of refugee bans and administration changes have brought resettlement to a near halt.

The refugees who come to our shores are fully vetted and documented. Having been screened under the strictest inter-agency security process ever devised, they arrive just as they are, often traumatized, physically disabled and bereft of loved ones.

And yet, having endured unimaginable pain and loss, refugees prove to be some of the most resilient members of our society. They find jobs quickly, learn the basics of the English language and become independent, productive contributors to society — typically in a matter of months. Over the past decade, refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenue than they accessed in benefits, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report.

Accepting refugees into our country is also in America’s best diplomatic, national security and economic interests. When America takes the lead in refugee resettlement, other countries are inspired to do more; foreigners who assist our troops and intelligence services are kept safe; those who have been persecuted get the opportunity to contribute to our society; and America’s strategic interests are advanced globally. When America abdicates responsibility, the world becomes a more unstable place.

Refugee resettlement is one of the few issues in the U.S. that has a strong bipartisan track record, reflecting our core American values. Presidents of all stripes have repeatedly affirmed the value of admitting refugees, which means supporting those who seek freedom from bondage and rejecting ideologies that are antithetical to American ideals of justice and liberty for all.

A cap of 75,000 for 2019 is a realistic and necessary number that this administration must adopt if it wants to make a dent in the global refugee count and continue to set an example to the world that vulnerable people are welcome in this country.

I urge Texans to not buy into the talking points rooted in fear, falsehoods and frustration with unrelated immigration issues. Processing and other bureaucratic delays that put refugee lives at stake can be overcome, and have been overcome for decades. We have the resources and communities to welcome refugees.

The U.S. has long been a leader in refugee resettlement and has earned its moral credibility in the eyes of other nations. With a cap of 30,000 — and the likelihood of far fewer refugees actually being admitted — Texans and all Americans should contact the White House and members of Congress to demand that the United States continue to remain a beacon of hope for those forced to flee for their survival.

Our nation’s cross-section of faith-based and secular organizations are on standby, ready to take in more vulnerable people. Now it’s up to our government to step up and do the right thing.

Russell A. Smith

CEO, Refugee Services of Texas