America on the Brink of Identity Loss in the Refugee Crisis

By Rosalind Faulkner

Human Rights First board member Antony Blinken recently penned an op-ed for The New York Times on what the United States stands to lose by rejecting refugees. The thing most at risk, Blinken writes, is a fundamental American commitment to lift the oppressed “into freedom.” The thing most at risk is “who we are.”

Not long after, President Trump tweeted his complaint that a federal appeals court had “ruled against the TRAVEL BAN at such a dangerous time,” and implied that the Supreme Court should take his side—or else. Blinken’s warnings are on the path to becoming reality.

In his article, Blinken discusses the Trump Administration’s disheartening shirking of the migration plan proposed by Italian leaders at the recent G7 conference. Of the economic powers represented in the Group of 7, the United States was the most outspoken in its dismissal of the plan. While most G7 members responded enthusiastically to the prospect of a unified effort to assist refugees with funding, permanent housing, education, and employment, the United States refused it.

If President Trump wants to uphold his “America First” agenda, he should be pushing to uphold America’s founding ideal and the pillar of American identity: the inalienable, universal right to liberty, equality, and opportunity.

A family anecdote in Blinken’s piece illustrates the human meaning of American dedication to liberty for all. Blinken writes of his stepfather, a Jewish immigrant to the United States after World War II:

At the end of the war he made a break from a death march, into the Bavarian woods. Days later, he heard the rumbling sound of a tank and looked out from his hiding place. Instead of the dreaded swastika, he saw a five-pointed white star. He ran to the star. The tank’s hatch opened and a large African-American soldier looked down at him. He fell to his knees and said the only three words in English that he knew, taught to him by his mother: God bless America. The G.I. lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.

This America, a nation whose reputation of democracy and acceptance drew a young Holocaust survivor out of the woods and running toward its star, is the one we should ever strive to realize.

A recent Human Rights First analysis shows that resettlement of Muslim refugees has dropped dramatically during the Trump Administration. Since Trump took office, resettlement rates for non-Muslim religious groups have fallen by an average of 55 percent. Of course, this number is staggering in itself. The Muslim refugee resettlement rate, though, has fallen by 68 percent.

From opening its arms to those persecuted for their religion after World War II, the United States now sends exactly the opposite message.

American refugee policy has long followed a turbulent path. This is not the first time that refugees have been turned away from the shores of the United States. (The infamous MS St. Louis incident of 1939 comes to mind.) This moment may be unique, however, in the intersection between the overwhelming number of people seeking refuge—upwards of 22.5 million—and the U.S. administration’s apparent intention to deny them.

The United States has clearly defined ideals. Now, the refugee crisis tests the conviction behind them.

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Published on June 20, 2017

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