One year ago, the Trump administration announced a highly controversial travel ban against refugees. For 120 days, the White House declared that the most vulnerable people on our planet — 75 percent of whom are women and children — would not find safe harbor on American soil. The refugee community is still feeling the effects of that ban.
It became a year of tumult for those families who were told they had been cleared for departure and then prevented from making the journey to the safety and security of the United States. The ban affected thousands of men, women and children. As we watched the chaos unfold, and the polarizing debate rage, for many of us who were born here our own families’ immigrant stories became immediately more relevant.
There are more than 22 million registered refugees in the world today. Of those, only 1 percent are resettled to a country like the United States. These include those who helped our armed forces at the risk of their own lives, people with urgent medical concerns who cannot be treated in camps, and women and children who face the very real threat of being trafficked or forced into labor against their will.
In 2016, Arizona welcomed 5,115 refugees. However, in 2017, only 2,824 were allowed in as a result of the Trump administration’s measures to limit access. In 2018, we expect even fewer.
The language of the refugee as a “risk” and “burden” to American society is deeply mistaken. Refugees are the most vetted population entering the United States. The 18 to 36 month process involves critical federal intelligence agencies, including Homeland Security, and if there is any doubt regarding a person’s background then they are not approved for entry.
Refugees represent the world’s innocents and to associate them with terrorists and equate them with the very monsters they have fled from is unacceptable and deeply misinformed. Our security lies not in abandoning the refugee program, but in setting refugees up for success once they arrive, so that they are invested in society, able to fully realize the benefits of this magnificent country and have every reason to nurture the America that nurtures them.
Refugees are not a burden. Within months of leaving refugee camps and escaping violence and persecution, these New Americans are settling down and working throughout the United States, including right here in Tucson. Refugees have the right to work and they do so prodigiously. Recent studies have shown an 81.8 percent workforce participation rate among refugees.
Refugees are net economic contributors to our economy. They pay taxes, buy local goods, rent apartments, buy cars and houses and try their best to live the American dream while supporting local businesses.
The needs of refugees have never been greater. The U.S. and Arizona Refugee Resettlement Programs are among the most important in the world. They save countless lives, ensure refugees are served without bias or prejudice, and protect American institutions.
By supporting refugee resettlement, we fulfill our national humanitarian mandate: to give refuge to those in need because we believe in a basic human right to live a life free from violence; because we believe that as a privileged and principled nation we must offer security to the persecuted and oppressed, protect individuals and populations that are threatened by tyrannical regimes, and provide for those who have lost everything due to conflict and disaster.
These are the ideals that should underpin any refugee resettlement and immigration policy and these are the ideals that my organization, the International Rescue Committee, and I support as we stand with refugees and promote their voice.