2020 Refugee Admissions Announcement
The administration just set the refugee admissions ceiling at a new historic low. At a time when the need has never been greater, with nearly 71 million people in the world who are forcibly displaced from their homes, there will be no more than 18,000 refugees resettled in the United States in fiscal year 2020. This is down from 85,000 when we began our work in FY 2016, a number that has basically been cut in half each consecutive year. We know that trying to sift through all of the policy, politics, articles, opinions, sides, facts and "facts" can be overwhelming, exhausting, and even a bit paralyzing. Here are a few simple thoughts that have helped me to wrap my head around the tremendously harmful impact of this decision- in the good ole' tried and true Western ideals of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
18,000 refugees could find safe haven here in 2020. That is 18,000 men, women, and children who may get a second chance at life.
4,000 slots will be set aside for Iraqis who assisted US troops (out of the tens of thousands currently waiting in substantial danger), hopefully beginning to make good on promises to keep them safe after dismal admissions in 2019 (only 200!!!).
18,000 is so so so so far from where we have been and where we can be as a nation. America has successfully resettled over 3 million refugees since the late 1970's, some years offering a safe haven to over 200,000 individuals annually.
Refugee and immigrant families have contributed a great deal to the economic success of our country and local communities. We shoot ourselves in the economic foot with this one.
The fact that it is not zero, gives some hope for a few, but the statement "at least it is not zero" is in reality a seductive and easy dismissal of a damaging and truly horrible decision. As tempting as it is for us as well, "at least it is not zero" CANNOT be our rally cry.
Are we really using families seeking asylum on our southern border as a scapegoat? We are smart, and educated, and capable, and creative - we CAN pat our heads and rub our bellies at the same time! Asylum seekers hope to pursue their claims here (with most of the backlog being self-inflicted by the administration; refugees are vetted while they are still overseas, mostly by people and agencies not involved with asylum seekers. These are two very separate and stand-alone processes that really need not interfere with each other.
Another sneaky and thinly-veiled measure is evident in an accompanying executive order “on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement,” the purpose of which is “to ensure that newly-arrived refugees are placed in communities where state and local governments are best-positioned to receive them” in order to “support refugees’ successful integration...” This is doublespeak. The real purpose is to create a path for states to opt-out of participating in this sometimes challenging, but incredibly successful and enriching national program.
These low numbers are designed and have been systematically implemented to decimate the infrastructure of resettlement, including the overseas processing and the local offices so important to communities like Missoula. When (yes, WHEN) refugee admissions return to robust levels, it will probably still take years to rebuild the knowledge base and physical capacity has been lost in this small and inhumane blip in our history.
Lastly, and maybe the most heartbreaking, such low numbers keep families separated from loved ones who also qualify to be here and reunited under refugee status. Many families in Missoula are right now waiting for reunification after being torn apart through tragedy not of their own making.
Despite the increasing roadblocks, we do still have so much hope for the robust future of resettlement in our country. We see not only the outrage that this decision has brought to so many, but our everyday work means that we connect with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individuals in Missoula and beyond who believe, like us (and 27 distinguished retired military officers), that providing refuge to the world's most vulnerable is not only good policy, but the true essence of what it means to be human and care for one another as our own. The truth is that we don't know yet what this will mean for resettlement in Missoula, but we do know that for Soft Landing Missoula it means our current rally cry is “Now, more than ever”. We also know that we are part of networks made up of groups across the nation that are standing arm in arm for refugees and that as a community and as a nation we will weather this storm and come out stronger. Across the nation, those working with refugees have been forced to be a little more creative, a little more patient, a little more passionate, and a whole lot louder. But that is what it is going to take to rebuild this program to historic successful levels and beyond. To reiterate something we said in an op-ed less than six weeks ago: We believe that support for refugees, cultivated in the hundreds of communities in which they have planted new roots, will continue to thrive. People know their new neighbors are good, honest, hard-working folks whose sacrifices are inspiring and whose will to succeed will never be defeated. We are a nation of refuge, not rejection.