Seventeen human rights and faith leaders, as well as former top State Department official Anne Richard, were arrested on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, while taking part in an act of civil disobedience protesting the Trump administration’s devastating reduction of refugee admissions. The 18 leaders, organizers said, represented the historically low number of 18,000 refugees who will be allowed into the U.S. in the next fiscal year.
“Those arrested were joined by supporters holding 95 photographs of refugees, a nod to the historic average refugee cap of 95,000 per year,” Church World Service said. “The arrests came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ... meets with Members of Congress to consult over the historically low cap.” On the watch of others such as White House aide and white supremacist Stephen Miller, the administration has steadily taken a sledgehammer to our nation’s refugee program.
Last month, the administration announced that the next fiscal year’s admissions would be slashed from nearly 30,000 to just 18,000, “the lowest in the history of the resettlement program,” CWS noted. One initial report had even indicated that one Miller-allied official may have pressed for zero admissions. This cruelty comes as human rights activists note that 37,000 people around the world are displaced every single day.
Our nation, the activists said, has abdicated its historic role as a place of refuge. “As a Palestinian American who was born and raised in a refugee camp,” said Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “I can say with absolute certainty that drastically cutting the U.S. refugee resettlement program by 80 percent will directly impact those seeking shelter inside our nation, diminishing their safety and our nation’s standing.”
This attack on the refugee system is not just affecting vulnerable families who have yet to be accepted into the program; last month, CNN reported that a number of refugees who were already approved for travel to the U.S. had had their flights canceled, leaving them to worry that they could be left in limbo or sent back to danger. “A notice obtained by CNN includes the travel itinerary for individuals whose travel was booked for October and canceled.”
“Risking handcuffs pales in comparison to what refugees risk every day to live simple lives in peace and freedom,” said Rev. John McCullough. “As a representative of the faith community, I could not in good conscience sit idly by as Secretary Pompeo came to Capitol Hill to get a rubber stamp on his woefully inadequate and cruel proposal.” Those arrested in the protest were wearing orange life vests, Amnesty International said, as “a symbol of the life-saving refugee resettlement program.”
Advocates fear that the administration’s action will reverberate far beyond what’s hopefully the approaching end of Donald Trump’s presidency. Chhaya Chhoum, herself a refugee and a co-founder of Mekong NYC, a New York agency that provides services for Southeast Asian refugees and their families, said last month that “generations and generations are going to be impacted” by the slash. “In a refugee camp, there’s no imagination. And I fear that will have multigenerational impact.”
Frank Sharry, leader of America’s Voice and another advocate arrested on Tuesday, said, “Opening our hearts and our arms to refugees from around the world is foundational to the American experiment. Ours is a nation defined not by blood and soil but by shared ideas and ideals. I am proud to stand up for one of America’s finest traditions, and I am heartbroken that this administration recklessly trashes it.”