Bipartisan senate group to Trump admin: Refugee resettlement promotes religious freedom

Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders wait to cross into Jordan in this undated photo.
Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders wait to cross into Jordan in this undated photo. | (Photo: Reuters)

Eighteen Senators from both major parties have sent a letter to the Trump administration calling on the president to reject a reported proposal to effectively eliminate refugee resettlement.

The letter, sent out on Monday, was addressed to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

Among their concerns, the signatories of the letter noted that the decreasing resettlement of refugees comes amid the State Department acknowledging increased religious persecution abroad.

“We were especially surprised to hear reports of the elimination or severe decrease in proposed refugee resettlement on the heels of the State Department’s Second Ministerial for International Religious Freedom, where survivors of severe persecution came to the United States to share testimonies of unimaginable human rights atrocities,” explained the letter.

“America has an obvious interest in demonstrating and promoting freedom of religion to the world, including accepting refugees who flee persecution because of their faith.”

The letter also argued that, far from being a hindrance, refugees in the United States contribute greatly to the local economies where they are settled.

Sen. James Lankford (L) and Sen. Chris Coons (R) prays for President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 7, 2019.
Sen. James Lankford (L) and Sen. Chris Coons (R) prays for President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 7, 2019. | Screenshot: White House

“Economists have found that refugees ultimately contribute billions more in taxes than they receive in benefits and that refugees are more likely to start their own businesses and create jobs,” continued the letter.

“In 2015 alone, more than 180,000 refugee-owned enterprises generated $4.6 billion in business income, more than the United States’ annual budget for refugee resettlement.”

Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma and Democrat Senator Chris Coons of Delaware were the chief signatories of the letter.

In addition to Sen. Lankford, Republicans who signed the letter included Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota, and former presidential hopeful Marco Rubio of Florida.

In addition to Sen. Coons, Democrats who signed the letter included Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and current presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

The Trump administration has garnered much criticism for lowering the cap for refugee resettlement to their lowest number since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980.

Last September, Pompeo announced that no more than 30,000 refugees were going to be resettled to the U.S. in fiscal year 2019, which is Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019.

Pompeo said that a “defective” vetting process was to blame, as well as a backlog of approximately 800,000 refugees for the decision to reduce the resettlement cap.

The 30,000-refugee cap is the lowest ceiling number set by any administration since 1980, with reports claiming that the administration may reduce the cap to zero for next fiscal year.

Jenny Yang, senior vice president for advocacy and policy at the evangelical humanitarian group World Relief, explained during a congressional briefing last month that the United States “should be continuing to lead in resettling refugees and not closing the door to prevent refugees from coming here in the first place, especially when the administration has been advocating for persecuted religious minorities.”

“But they have effectively shut the door on them to even come to the United States of America. We have to practice at home what we are teaching abroad,” said Yang.

“When we are not allowing refugees who have fled persecution to find hope here, then we are effectively continuing their suffering overseas.” 

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