By Melissa Garlick | Civil Rights National Counsel
Today, the refugee experience is that of Hadi Mohammed- an Iraqi refugee who escaped death threats in Iraq and settled with his two young sons in Nebraska. Because of more restrictive screening imposed by the Trump administration on refugee admissions, his family remains separated. His wife, while initially told that she would be approved to come to the U.S. and reunited with her family within a month, has been caught up in red tape for over a year now.
Last year, the administration restricted the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States to 45,000, which was the lowest since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980. And data indicates that the administration in fact admitted fewer than 21,000 refugees in the 2018 fiscal year because of tighter screening and vetting procedures, including more rigorous interviews and background checks. But the U.S. already had high hurdles for those seeking to enter, and refugee status was already the most difficult way to enter the country. The existing vetting process had worked. According to the Pew Research Center, 2017 also marked the first time that the U.S. resettled fewer refugees than the rest of the world. Since 1980, the U.S. has taken in 3 million of the more than 4 million refugees resettled worldwide, leading the world in refugee resettlement.
The decline in refugee resettlement is occurring in the midst of the worst global refugee crisis since WWII, when the global refugee population increased by 2.75 million and reached a record 19.9 million in 2017. The limitations on the refugee resettlement program have not made the process more secure. Rather, they have meant that a huge number of people fleeing for their lives, like Hadi Mohammed’s wife, cannot be reunited with their families and cannot find refuge here - not because they pose any threat, but simply because they are caught in endless red tape. They may never hug or kiss their spouse, their parents, or their children again. Their families may never reach American shores. They may never reach safety at all.
Despite this, the administration recently announced that it would slash the number of refugees for admission to the U.S. even more, to a historic low of 30,000 refugees fleeing persecution, violence, and war. These actions- turning our backs on people fleeing for the lives- defies the proud promise indelibly inscribed on the Statute of Liberty. And in the Jewish community, our hearts especially break for those refugees. Because as Jews, we know all too well what happens when people fleeing for their lives have nowhere to turn.
That is why we are proud to co-sponsor National Refugee Shabbat, a project of HIAS, this weekend (October 19-20). This event will create and dedicate a Shabbat experience for refugees, give voice to our values as Jews and as Americans, and recommit turning these values into action. It is time to stand up and remind our country and the world that once we were strangers, too. We must do better.
Learn how you or your congregations can participate in the National Refugee Shabbat here.