WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) today led a group of Senators in opposing the Trump Administration’s reported plans to slash the U.S.’s refugee cap to admit only 18,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2020—a cap which, if not reversed, would represent the lowest level of refugee admittances in American history. Denying admittance to refugees beyond this cap could put tens of thousands of lives at risk, lead to greater instability, and detract from U.S. global influence.
Merkley and Markey were joined in today’s push by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“We urge you to heed the recommendation of top U.S. military officials and faith leaders to open our doors to eligible refugees from all corners of the world,” the Senators wrote in a letter to President Trump. “We know that returning refugees to their countries of origin would put their lives in immediate danger and would perpetuate the very cycle of violence from which they sought to escape. A generous U.S. refugee policy spares tens of thousands from terrible fates.”
The Senators also emphasized that a robust refugee policy is key to U.S. national security and military policy.
“Top U.S. military leaders are among the strongest proponents of restoring U.S. global leadership in welcoming refugees, particularly in the areas where U.S. Armed Forces operate,” the Senators continued. “Each U.S. embassy and geographic combatant command depends on the assistance of a cadre of translators, security officers, and other advisors from host countries. Our foreign partners risk their lives in support of our national security, and the refugee resettlement program is one way we can show gratitude. That is why two dozen retired generals wrote you to ensure ‘that the next refugee admission goal is commensurate with global resettlement needs.’ Their call was echoed by former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who urged that the United States not leave our allies in the lurch: ‘over the 17 years of war, numerous Iraqi nationals have risked their lives and their families by aligning with the our diplomats and warfighters providing essential mission support. We owe them support for their commitment.’”
Last year’s cap of 30,000 already represented the lowest level of U.S. refugee admittances since the U.S. first instituted a cap on refugees in 1980. Cutting the cap by an additional 12,000 represents a remarkable retreat from the U.S.’s historical role as a beacon of hope for the oppressed around the world.
Leading refugee groups also joined the Senators’ call today. “I urge President Trump to listen to members of Congress today,” said Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International. “Refugee resettlement provides lifesaving protection to the world’s most vulnerable populations and serves U.S. interests. To further cut refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2020 would not only undermine U.S. objectives but would punish individuals and families who have faced unimaginable horrors.”
“Refugee Council USA is grateful to Senators Merkley and Markey for their continued leadership in promoting and protecting the US refugee resettlement program,” added Bill Canny, Executive Director of US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Migration and Refugee Services, and Chair of Refugee Council USA. “With more than 70-million people forcibly displaced and greater than 25-million refugees worldwide, the US must resume the mantle of leadership, protecting the world’s most vulnerable through the life-saving refugee resettlement program. As first-hand witnesses to the positive impact resettlement has on refugees and communities across the United States, as well our knowledge of refugees living overseas who cannot return home, we must not turn our backs as the administration attempts to pull up the welcome mat.”
The full text of the Merkley-Markey letter is available here and follows below.
September 27, 2019
The Honorable Donald Trump
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington D.C. 20500
We write to strongly urge you to revise the proposed ceiling for the admission of refugees that is in keeping with our longstanding commitment to vulnerable people around the world. We are concerned about press reports indicating that the Trump administration, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, will further slash the refugee ceiling to 18,000. This is well below FY2019, which, at 30,000, was already at its lowest historical level. We ask that you to immediately reverse course and heed the recommendation of top U.S. military officials and faith leaders to open our doors to eligible refugees from all corners of the world.
We know that returning refugees to their countries of origin would put their lives in immediate danger and would perpetuate the very cycle of violence from which they sought to escape. A generous U.S. refugee policy spares tens of thousands from terrible fates. For instance, U.S. refugee admissions in FY2018 saved the lives of Muslim and Christian minorities who escaped atrocities in Burma, and of Ukrainians caught in the crossfire of a protracted conflict in Eastern Ukraine. We also know that refugee resettlement increases U.S. global influence, counters anti-Western propaganda, and promotes regional stability in foreign countries hosting large numbers of refugees. Conflict has led refugee camps to swell in size, from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to Zaatari in Jordan – straining the finite resources of our key allies and partners.
National security leaders attest that a refugee policy that embraces robust admissions of persons of all religions, races, and nationalities, is a foreign policy tool we have to combat groups like ISIS who sell a false narrative that Muslims are not welcome in the United States. As the number of complex humanitarian emergencies has reached a level not seen since World War II — with 70 million displaced, 25 million of whom are refugees — the United States must rise to this global challenge.
A failure to exercise U.S. humanitarian leadership also betrays our economic interests and national security. A 2017 study from the CATO Institute found that refugees, from 2005 to 2014, paid $63 billion more in taxes than they received in government benefits. Moreover, purported security concerns, which the Trump administration used to justify deep cuts to the U.S. refugee ceiling in FY2018 and FY2019, have no basis in reality. Stanford University’s Immigration Lab concluded that the Trump Administration’s January 27, 2017 Executive Order to halt all refugee admissions for 120 days had “no discernible impact on crime rates” in the United States. The rest of the world resettled nearly three times the number of refugees as the United States in FY2017, while the Trump administration slashed America’s refugee cap to its lowest level since 1980 — a dramatic reversal from our bipartisan, historic average of 95,000 people each year.
Top U.S. military leaders are among the strongest proponents of restoring U.S. global leadership in welcoming refugees, particularly in the areas where U.S. Armed Forces operate. Each U.S. embassy and geographic combatant command depends on the assistance of a cadre of translators, security officers, and other advisors from host countries. Our foreign partners risk their lives in support of our national security, and the refugee resettlement program is one way we can show gratitude. That is why two dozen retired generals wrote you to ensure “that the next refugee admission (FY2020) goal is commensurate with global resettlement needs.” Their call was echoed by former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who urged that the United States not leave our allies in the lurch: “over the 17 years of war, numerous Iraqi nationals have risked their lives and their families by aligning with the our diplomats and warfighters providing essential mission support. We owe them support for their commitment.”
We also join religious leaders and U.S. resettlement organizations in rejecting any plan to reduce refugee admissions in FY2020 below an already historically low ceiling in FY2019. As a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of religion or belief are key defining factors in determining refugee eligibility, the Chair and Vice Chair of the United States Commission on Religious Liberty (USCIRP) urged the Administration to not “dramatically (reduce) the number of refugees” in the fiscal year to come. Even as conflict displaces a growing number of people outside their countries of origin, your Administration’s admission cuts have forced the nine resettlement agencies – many of which are faith based – to close offices. That is why absent an upwards shift in actual refugee resettlements for FY2020, we may lose the national capacity to respond meaningfully to a future manmade humanitarian crisis.
For millions of new Americans, the Statute of Liberty stood as the first landmark to greet them on the voyage to their new home. Those arrivals included an eleven-year-old girl who fled with her family from Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. Five-decades later, Madeleine Albright would rise to become America’s top diplomat, the 64th Secretary of State. For the sake of those seeking a future free from persecution, we ask that you uphold the promise of America by keeping the door open to the world’s refugees.