The Stew Reporting on government and politics

A shrinking target

Politics | Groups urge White House not to downsize refugee program
by Harvest Prude
Posted 9/12/19, 04:44 pm

Refugees around the world are waiting anxiously for the Trump administration to announce how many of them can come to the United States in the next year. Multiple reports from sources in the White House have said the number could be cut in half or even zeroed out, leaving families like Arooj Nirmal’s broken indefinitely.

Nirmal, a Pakistani Christian who lives in Spokane, Wash., escaped her home country in 2013 and found refuge in the United States. She fled because Muslim extremists targeted her family after her husband started a website telling stories of persecuted Christians. On a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Nirmal said her husband was kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead. He only later escaped the country.

Now, he is in Sri Lanka—hardly a safe place for Pakistani Christians. The Sri Lankan government began deporting some Pakistani refugees in 2013, and the rest have languished in refugee camps. Nirmal’s husband was just 30 minutes away from the explosions when extremists bombed churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday this year, killing 259 people.

“I don’t think it’s a safe place anymore for a Christian refugee or others living there,” Nirmal said. “We ask government officials to please kindly take a generous look to all these cases. … We want to come to this good and beautiful nation.” The U.S. refugee resettlement program represents her only hope of reuniting with her husband, whose name she did not disclose for fear he would face retaliation for his faith.

President Donald Trump held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the annual target number for refugee admissions, which he is expected to announce before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The 1980 law governing the refugee program encourages the administration to take into account humanitarian interests, global needs, and strategic national security concerns. Until recent years, the refugee ceiling stayed higher than 95,000.

In 2017, the president set the target at 50,000 refugees. He has steadily whittled away at it since. In 2018, it was 45,000, the lowest level since 1980, and the United States welcomed only 22,491 refugees—roughly half of the goal. The administration cut the number again in 2019 to only 30,000.

The Department of Homeland Security selects the refugees, and multiple agencies screen them before they ever set foot on U.S. soil. The process can take years.

“There is no class of applicants that is more thoroughly screened than refugees,” said Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Syria. “Not students, not tourists. … They’re screened, but no one gets the intense treatment refugees do.”

In the past, Republican and Democratic administrations have raised the ceiling to provide a safe haven for refugees of communist countries and those fleeing religious or ethnic persecution and tyrannical regimes. Today, Islamic State (ISIS), war, and persecution have displaced more than 70 million people around the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency. About 25.9 million are refugees who fled to other countries, and half of them are children.

The refugee program incentivizes people in conflict zones to form partnerships with U.S. military operations. Earlier this month, 27 retired generals and admirals urged Trump to keep the program alive.

“If today we turn these people away, or reduce the numbers who are allowed entry, it will be extremely difficult to ask others to assist us in the future,” Adm. Robert Natter and Gen. Mark Hertling wrote in a Washington Post op-ed column.

Gideon Maltz, executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees, said cutting the number of refugee admissions to zero could cause long-term damage to a system that is the “envy of the world,” adding, “No one does a better job of resettling refugees than the U.S. That’s infrastructure [that] won’t easily be restored, with severe implications for the long term.”

Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik Sen. Mitch McConnell

This week in Congress

Congress returned Monday after its summer recess with just three weeks to approve spending bills for federal agencies to avert a government shutdown. A small window of time remains this year for tackling priorities on trade, guns, and other issues.

Both chambers must agree on 12 appropriations bills by the time the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Republicans and Democrats are expected to argue about President Donald Trump’s shuffling of funds from military projects to pay for a wall along the U.S. southern border. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., plans to pursue a vote on a continuing resolution, a measure that would temporarily fund the government at current levels, to allow the House and Senate more time to reach an agreement.

In the wake of multiple mass shootings this summer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate could consider restrictions on gun purchases if the White House supported them. McConnell has previously kept votes on gun measures from coming to the floor. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to push a series of gun control proposals in hopes of pressuring the Senate to act.

The White House would also like Congress to back the president’s updated trade deal with Mexico and Canada, but Democrats have said the United States–Mexico-Canada Agreement needs to bolster labor and environmental standards and address other concerns.

Democrats remain divided on whether to impeach Trump. The House Judiciary Committee voted on a resolution Thursday that lays out procedures for an impeachment investigation. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been reluctant to go down that road, citing a lack of public support. —Anne K. Walters

2020 update

Howard Schultz announced Friday he will not pursue an independent run for the White House in 2020 because he feared it would help President Donald Trump win reelection. The Starbucks founder, who announced in January he was forming an exploratory committee, said he did not want to risk drawing votes away from a Democrat in the general election.

Although Trump won’t face an independent contender in Schultz, he will face an additional Republican primary challenger after Mark Sanford, the former congressman and governor from South Carolina, announced his bid for the White House. Trump on Monday dismissed Sanford and fellow GOP candidates Joe Walsh and Bill Weld as “a joke” and “a laughingstock” and called their candidacies publicity stunts.

At least four states—Sanford’s home state of South Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, and Nevada—might cancel their Republican primaries to bolster Trump.

Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are scheduled to debate at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday in Houston, where the 10 top contenders will share one stage for the first time. A Politico/Morning Call poll found that 54 percent of respondents said 10 candidates were too many. The debate airs on ABC and Univision

One Democratic candidate outside the top 10, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, will not appear in Thursday’s debate, but she recently set herself apart from her rivals by expressing skepticism about late-term abortion. Gabbard told libertarian YouTube host Dave Rubin she thought the “cut-off” for abortion should be the “third trimester unless the woman’s life or severe health consequences is at risk.” Gabbard said the government should not decide the matter, however. Her legislative record has earned her a 100 percent rating from the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. —A.K.W.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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