On World Refugee Day, Amnesty International Calls on Congress to Stand Strong As Bipartisan Line of Defense Against President Trump Intent on Closing Doors to Refugees Worldwide

By Joanne Lin, Senior Managing Director, Advocacy and Government Affairs

This week we honor and commemorate World Refugee Day — a time when the world recommits to protecting refugees worldwide. Never before has the world had so much to contend with, as a record-breaking 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced and refugees have topped 22.5 million — the highest numbers ever seen since the founding of the UN Refugee Agency in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The magnitude and gravity of the worldwide refugee crises cry out for the need for unified international leadership. Yet, even as the number of refugees worldwide continues to climb, President Trump pushes to implement his refugee ban, which has been repeatedly blocked by multiple courts. At the same time the president is pushing through Congress a budget that seeks to slash the refugee program while bulking up funding to detain asylum seekers including children. The U.S. has never seen a president with such a devastating anti-refugee agenda.

Fortunately President Trump cannot unilaterally impose that agenda. Congress still retains the power to write checks for, and to set limits to, the president’s spending. In exercising the power of the purse, Congress must also check the bounds of presidential power — bounds defined by law, human rights, and longstanding bipartisan tradition in Congress. The U.S. has a long proud history of refugee resettlement — a tradition that has been upheld by past presidents and Congresses, regardless of political party.

This week Amnesty International sent a letter to Congress setting forth critical policy recommendations that Congress must adopt to protect refugees:

(1) Press the president to drop his push to institute a Muslim and refugee ban. Despite numerous losses in court, the president continues to fight for a ban that would shut our doors to refugees worldwide. Congress must make clear that the U.S. will remain open to refugees in need of protection, regardless of their religion or nationality.

(2) Welcome at least 75,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2018 (“FY18”). The U.S. should commit to admitting 75,000 refugees — a modest number that falls far short of the 100,000 refugees admitted in each year of the George H.W. Bush presidency.

(3) Oppose president’s cuts to refugee and humanitarian assistance programs: The president’s budget calls for a 44 percent cut in humanitarian assistance and an 18 percent cut to the Migration and Refugee Assistance account. The human toll of these cuts would be staggering — resulting in the denial of assistance to over 3.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons. Congress must reject these proposed cuts and instead increase funding for U.S. refugee resettlement, a crucial component for fostering integration and self-sufficiency for newly arrived refugees.

(4) End funding of family detention, and halt expansion of immigration detention. While the president aims to slash the U.S. refugee program, his budget proposal also major new funding for immigration detention, including detention of asylum seekers. The inhumane policy of detaining families not only harms the health and well-being of children fleeing trauma but is also costly to taxpayers. Congress should immediately cease funding family detention and halt expansion of immigration detention.

In 2017, at a time when the world is grappling with the most severe refugee crisis in history, Amnesty International calls upon Congress to stand strong as the bipartisan line of defense against a president intent on closing U.S. doors to refugees worldwide. Now is the time for the U.S. to do more — not less — to protect refugees fleeing war and persecution.

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