Ever since the Statue of Liberty raised her torch in New York Harbor, she has welcomed the “homeless, tempest-tossed” masses from foreign shores.
Those masses have played a central role in making America the powerful nation it is and the moral beacon it was. America’s government has decided to pull up the welcome mat to foreigners and relinquish its role as moral leader of the world.
With ever-increasing intensity, the Trump administration has been closing America’s door to refugees and asylum seekers; clamping down on immigration; and working to eject non-citizens. The administration’s Muslim ban, which was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on April 25, has drawn a good deal of public attention but it is just the tip of the iceberg. The government is conducting a full court press against foreigners.
With regard to refugees, the administration has capped the number that can be admitted to the country at 45,000, which is less than half of the yearly average taken in by the U.S. since 1980. However, we will likely give refuge to less than half of the cap because the administration is slow-walking the admission process. For example, Idaho received 1,118 refugees in fiscal year (FY) 2016, but only 629 in FY 2017 and we will be lucky to get 300 in FY 2018.
Do we have a responsibility to give safe harbor to refugees? These are people who were brutalized by their governments and had to flee for their very lives. The U.S. has played a major role in creating the massive refugee flow from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen by wars we have started or supported. We certainly have some responsibility to provide refuge to at least a few of the victims of those wars.
With regard to people seeking asylum, particularly those fleeing terrible violence in Central American countries, we have pretty much turned a blind eye. When parents arrive at the border with their minor children to ask for asylum, the kids are often taken and detained separately from the parents--more than 700 since October of 2017. John Kelly had suggested the policy as a deterrent for asylum seekers. On another front, Jeff Sessions wants to eliminate domestic abuse as a ground for obtaining asylum.
Much is happening on the immigration front. The president wants to reduce legal immigration by half and eject many people who are presently here, legally or not.
Many people who were admitted to the country on a temporary basis because of calamities at home are set to be removed from the country. That includes about 200, 000 Salvadorans who came to the U.S. following a couple of 2001 earthquakes. Even though their status was initially expected to be temporary, these folks have established roots in the country and have been contributing. Now they have been notified to leave. The same has happened to Haitians, Liberians, and Hondurans, among others.
The DACA issue has gotten a good deal of coverage and it is not clear what the administration intends to do with these individuals who were brought to the country as minors and are now in jeopardy of being deported. The signals coming from the president continue to be conflicting. What does seem to be clear is that Dreamers are being held hostage as bargaining fodder for funding to build a costly and ineffective border wall and legislation to substantially restrict legal immigration.
Much more has been and is being done to make the United States a hostile environment for foreigners. It is contrary to our very being and will come back to haunt us in future years. Please, Lady Liberty, save us from ourselves.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.