U.S. Executive Order is Unlikely to Help Hong Kong Refugees

WASHINGTON — While the president last night called on U.S. agencies to reallocate refugee resettlement slots to residents of Hong Kong in his executive order on Hong Kong normalization, due to his own administration’s policies, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has been decimated and any protestors from Hong Kong who seek asylum in the United States could find themselves thrown in immigration detention by U.S. immigration authorities and denied asylum.

Under rules proposed in June 2020 with which are open for comment through the end of the day, refugees – including those from Hong Kong – would be denied asylum if they transit other countries on their way to the United States, if their persecutors detained them for only brief periods, or if their persecutors were not able to carry out their threats before the asylum seeker fled to the United States. These and other Trump administration policies are blocking many refugees from asylum in the United States.

Given last night’s executive order, Human Rights First called on the Trump administration to reverse its assault on the U.S. asylum and resettlement systems:

“The Trump administration has crippled and purposefully torpedoed the ability of the United States to provide asylum or refugee resettlement to people fleeing persecution, whether they are escaping Hong Kong, Honduras, Venezuela or any other place. The pressing need to protect people who flee persecution in Hong Kong is a stark reminder of the critical importance of U.S. asylum and refugee laws and systems. These protections were created to provide safe haven to people with well-founded fears of persecution, but over the last three and a half years the Trump administration has done everything it can to decimate those life-saving laws and systems. The president’s direction that resettlement slots potentially be reallocated to people fleeing Hong Kong is little more than disingenuous lip service and purposefully ignores the dire plight of many refugees from other places who have been left stranded due to his administration’s destruction of the U.S. resettlement system.”

Due to the Trump administration’s actions, the annual refugee resettlement cap has plunged from a historic average of 95,000 refugees down to an all-time low of 18,000.  Fewer than 8000 refugees have been resettled to the United States so far this fiscal year, as Refugee Council USA recently explained. The Trump administration is planning to furlough the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service officers who conduct refugee interviews and, speciously citing the coronavirus as rationale, has imposed a moratorium on refugee resettlement arrivals.

To protect people in need of refuge – from Hong Kong and from other countries where their lives and freedom are at risk – the Trump administration must immediately rescind regulations and policies aimed at blocking refugees from asylum and punishing those who seek U.S. protection.

The Trump administration must also restore the U.S. resettlement program to its historic levels, increase resettlement goals and strengthen the system’s capacity so it can resettle refugees from around the world and be able to meet emerging resettlement needs such as those of refugees from Hong Kong.


Published on July 15, 2020


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