Many powerful countries across the world tend to accept refugees fleeing from other states for multiple reasons. The refugee programs are intended to offer protection and even save the lives of vulnerable people in the conflict region. The United States is among those countries admitting millions of refugees every year. However, some states receive even greater numbers; for example, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have recently accepted over five million people from warring Syria. Another example is Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil, among other South American countries, receiving millions of refugees from the political and economic disaster in Venezuela (Neier, 2019). President Trump and Congress have aroused heated debates due to the recent policies that restrict the admission of refugees. This paper discusses Trump’s policy and its implications for both the country and the refugees. A brief background of the US refugee policy and its evolution since World War 2 will also be highlighted.
Background to the US’s Refugee Policy
The United States has been described as the country that operates the largest refugee resettlement program. In the financial year 2016, the state admitted approximately 85000 immigrants, which are estimated at two-thirds of the total number of evacuees accepted worldwide (Fix et al., 2017). The US’ history of refugee policy can be traced back to 1980 when the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed. It established the resettlement program in the country (Wilson, 2019). However, the nation had already accepted over 3 million émigrés in humanitarian missions that stretched back to the Second World War (Fix et al., 2017). According to Beers (2020), refugees have been moving to the US for centuries, and the resettlement program is often regarded as the result of World War 2. The Act sought to address major issues such as the legal status and rights protections of these vulnerable groups. Additionally, it intended to comply with the international law published by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1951 (Beers, 2020). The country, therefore, intended to install a framework to regulate and protect the refugees.
The 1980 legislation was not the first legal framework for the immigrants. The first law that can be described as ‘refugee-specific’ was passed in 1948 when Congress allowed the admission of 400000 Europeans fleeing World War 2 (Beers, 2020). During the escalation of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, ad-hoc laws were adopted to allow the acceptance of additional refugees. Most of them were political asylum seekers from communist regimes in states such as China, Yugoslavia, Korea, Poland, and Hungary, among others. However, the country has not always been ready to accept refugees, as explained by Neier (2019). The US refused to receive a ship carrying over 900 German Jews in 1939 who were admitted by Britain and saved from the Nazis. On average, the US welcomes 80000 refugees per year (Neier, 2019). These figures have drastically reduced as a result of Trump’s new policy, as will be discussed later.
Before examining Trump’s and Congress’s new policy, it is important to acknowledge that there has been a mutual benefit for the country and the refugees. In essence, the latter gain the safety and protection they desire. On the other hand, the former gains massive economic and cultural benefits. A summary of the economic developments in the era of refugee resettlement in the country has been presented by Kaba (2019), who states that before 2017, there were more than 250 million migrants internationally. The world, the author argues, has progressed massively as a result of immigration, with the global gross domestic product (GDP) rising from $22.6 trillion to $80.738 trillion between 1990 and 2017 (Kaba, 2019). Other indicators of the economic benefits of the refugee phenomenon include an increased number of billionaires and millionaires across the world, and especially in North America. Education levels have also risen significantly, further outlining the gains of immigration. These benefits are a major concern, alongside the safety of refugees, among many opponents of the new policies adopted by Trump and Congress.
Trump’s Refugee Policy
Trump’s refugee policy has been undesirable for most people due to its increased restrictions and barriers to the admission of asylum seekers. The media has labeled the procedural barriers as “death of asylum” and as “final insult and injury to refugee” (Frelick, 2020, para. 1). This is because the new rules implement the extreme vetting of refugees in addition to the already grueling procedures such as fingerprinting, interviews, background checks, and biometric examination (Packer, 2020). The greatest impact, however, is the fact that the new limit is set at 30,000 refugees per year as compared to 80,000 refugees in the previous years (Neier, 2019). It is apparent, therefore, that Trump’s administration is keen on reversing the progress of the refugee resettlement program.
It is essential to acknowledge that policy changes regarding refugee admission were taking place even before Trump’s administration. The Obama regime had added restrictions to several Muslim countries as a result of terrorism threats and deteriorating relations with countries such as Iran. The initial travel ban included countries, such as Iraq, which was later excluded (Arafa, 2018). Trump’s second executive order sought to reinterpret several legal terms and, thus, effectively change the admission criteria. According to Frelick (2020), new definitions of fundamental asylum concepts remove the protection of many of those honored by Human Rights Day. For example, the term ‘political opinion’ as a basis for claiming asylum will be supporting “a discrete cause related to political control of a state” (Frelick, 2020, para. 3). In this case, people calling for political reforms, including human rights lawyers, will be ineligible for asylum protection in the country.
The refugee policy, despite seeking to protect refugees, is intended to guarantee the safety of Americans. The vetting, it is argued here, is undertaken to ensure only harmless people are allowed into the country. However, political opinions play a vital role in shaping the regulations. For example, Trump has gone on record to accuse Mexico of sending to the US individuals with multiple problems. He argued that these people bring the same issues to the US, including drugs, rape, and crime, among other accusations (Scribner, 2017). It is hard to offer evidence for these claims, but the sentiments are an indication of strong political opinions against immigrants. Trump’s agenda during the campaigns has been to make America great again, and this could be interpreted to mean keeping non-Americans out of the country.
Implications of the Policy
The implications for the policy changes are far-reaching for both the country and refugees. As a world leader, the actions of the US could be copied by other global powers who would seek to reduce the number of refugee intakes. If such was to become a trend, then the number of preventable deaths, especially in conflict regions such as the Middle East, would rise rapidly. From a more practical perspective, the new rules and modifications in the definitions of key terms exclude from protection of several groups. A summary of the implications of the policy changes is tabulated by McKenzie et al. (2020), who highlight those most affected. Trauma among children separated from parents, victims of domestic and gang violence, and detainees seeking asylum are among the people who will suffer most.
Another key implication is growing discrimination across religions and nationalities. This is because many people believe that the new travel bans are synonymous with Muslin bans (Arafa, 2018). Today, Islam is presented in the Western media as supporting terrorism. The ban on Muslim countries across the world will cause further stereotyping of Muslims. Notably, Islam is often contradictory to American values, and the friction can be manifested in the high percentage of Republicans (66%) opposing the admission of Syrian refugees. These people comprise 78% of Trump’s supporters, which could further explain Trump’s new rules (Scribner, 2017). In essence, all the benefits enjoyed over the decades from America’s refugee policy will be eroded.
Trump administration’s new refugee policy changes can be seen as retrogressive in that they seek to reverse the progress made over the decades. Trump’s campaign promises of making America great again are simply a way of saying America can do better without the refugees. This, however, is in contrast to the evidence showing that, indeed, the country has benefited economically from the inflow of immigrants. The major implications will be felt in the removal from protection of the many vulnerable groups and worsening stereotyping of Muslims.
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