Recently, the Trump administration signed a refugee ceiling that sets the resettlement cap to a historic low of just 18,000 for fiscal year 2020. It’s a move that undermines our country’s moral leadership and keeps thousands of persecuted refugees at risk for their lives around the world. But possibly even more concerning is the president’s legally questionable executive order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement, which would give localities and states the ability to deny the entry of refugees to their areas — despite the refugees’ having already been approved for resettlement.
The order states that refugees will only be allowed to be resettled “in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program.”
This policy is not only constitutionally suspect but blatantly discriminatory. When refugees arrive in the United States, they should be able to live anywhere they choose that is best for them and their families.
By limiting where refugees can be resettled, this policy also undermines family unity. At World Relief, most of the refugees we have been privileged to resettle in recent years have been directed to a particular community because they have family members already living in that community. While the executive order makes an exception for spouses and children, many refugees could remain separated from their siblings, grandparents or cousins who could help facilitate their adjustment and integration into the U.S.
In addition, the Office of Refugee Resettlement considers what resources are available, like job training and educational resources, in resettling refugees. Having a state and local entity reject refugees would mean many refugees might be resettled far away from vital integration services. This executive order undermines one of the main goals of the program which is to help refugees become self-sufficient as quickly as possible.
Most U.S. communities are eager to welcome more refugees. Just this month, over 390 state and local elected officials from 46 states signed a letter affirming that they support refugee resettlement in their communities. Within just a few months of being resettled, refugees give back to their new communities; they start working, pay taxes, start businesses, purchase homes and take steps toward becoming U.S. citizens. Over a 20-year-period, refugees contribute, on average, $21,000 more in taxes than the initial investment to resettle them. In 2015, refugees contributed $21 billion in U.S. taxes. Permitting states and localities to opt out of refugee resettlement has a deeply negative economic and fiscal impact on our country’s communities.
Refugee resettlement also advances U.S. economic and foreign policy interests. Refugee resettlement is a critical national security and foreign policy tool, and giving so much power to states and municipalities jeopardizes the effectiveness of the resettlement program in foreign policy contexts.
Local community input has long been welcomed in refugee processes. Resettlement agencies are required by their federal agreements to convene consultation meetings with appropriate stakeholders at least quarterly and cover a range of topics. The State Refugee Coordinator in each state must also agree to placement numbers.
We must remember that every refugee is a human being made in God’s image, no matter which country they have come from or why they have fled. To welcome so few of them, and only into certain parts of the U.S., is an un-American choice for our country’s leadership.
Jenny Yang (Twitter: @JennyYangWR) is vice president of advocacy and policy with World Relief and co-author of “Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the immigration Debate.” World Relief is a global Christian humanitarian organization and one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies.