This is not time for fear

There are so many things we need to talk about here. You’ve heard MANY of the arguments for and against refugee resettlement, some more fact-based than others. Oh, what am I playing at? You’ve heard
the lies, and I will not repeat them here.
Firstly, 45,000 refugee slots for FY18 is absurd and insulting. Worldwide, there are 65.3 million people who cannot return home because they fear that if they do they will be killed. 65 MILLION people. 22.5 million are considered refugees eligible for resettlement by the UNHCR. The United States takes in a minuscule percentage of that number, and yet the program survives and does what it’s supposed to do: it saves lives.
In general, the US Refugee Program is a political move: Selectively accepting refugees from certain countries is a strategic battle to keep US allies happy. Have you met many Kurds from Turkey who have been granted refugee status in the US? Probably not, and there is a reason
for that. There are programs still in existence today whose subtextual purpose was to offer safe haven to dissidents and great minds from the former USSR and Iran. Do we offer that same protection to Mexicans
trying desperately to escape the cartels? No, we do not.
The “ceiling” is set by presidential mandate and has ranged from almost 250,000 when the Refugee Act passed in 1980 to 140,000 in the 1990s in response to the Balkan wars to 70,000 in the early 2000s where it hovered until last year when President Obama raised it to 110,000 to
accommodate the mad rush of people entering Europe. As a side note, none of these 110,000 was ever coming directly from Europe as the refugee pipeline stems from camps and urban resettlement sites, not France and Germany. The increase in the ceiling was intended to alleviate pressure on European nations by clearing out some of the backlog from refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.
Ostensibly, this reduction is part of the RAISE Act (bit of tripe to be discussed in my next post), meant to reduce legal immigration to the US by half over the next ten years. The “humanitarians” in the administration claim that the US will instead spend money on caring for refugees in camps overseas. This is a smoke and mirrors move. Once refugees become something “other” that happens “over there,” who will care? Because of the resettlement program, refugees here become our neighbors, our shopkeepers, our taxi drivers, our students, educators, bosses, coworkers, and–most importantly–our fellow citizens.
Leaving refugees overseas in the countries to which they have fled is not a real option without major infrastructure overahauls to rural Kenya, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia, just to name a few. It would also require a significant increase in the financial contributions those countries. Though Turkey has ‘accepted’ millions of Syrian refugees, the government prevents most Syrian children from attending school, leaving huge gaps in their education for years. There is a blanket assumption of rape in the camps that house Congolese refugees in Tanzania as it happens so often. People subsist on rice and beans in overcrowded tent cities with one latrine between 10-20 families. What incentive would these host countries truly have to offer more safeguards or services?
Without the possibility of resettlement, an entire generation of children could grow up with continued uncertainty and without hope. The United States will also lose- we will continue to lose credibility as an international leader, and we will lose all the benefits that refugees bring to our nation.
By lowering our refugee ceiling to less than half of last year’s intended refugee intake (which, we never actually achieved due to several rounds of Muslim bans and our current refugee resettlement hiatus),
the White House is not making the US safer. The president is not protecting the homeland. He is pandering to the right wing to protect himself and sacrificing the health, safety, and quite possibly the
lives of over 50,000 per year for a lie to appease people who have been taken in by fear-mongering.
Refugees do not make America unsafe. Fear does, and I for one am done with what fear is doing to my country.

About the Author
Whitney Kweskin is the Immigration Services Manager at a local Atlanta refugee resettlement agency. She has a keen interest in immigration policy as it relates to refugees, asylum law, and comprehensive immigration reform. Whitney is actively involved in Limmud Atlanta+SE and in the Jacobson Leadership Institute. Her opinions in this blog are not meant to be representative of New American Pathways.