Proud U.S. Tradition Of Welcoming Refugees Is Starting to Erode
One of America's proudest traditions has been its willingness to open its doors to refugees fleeing violent conflict and persecution and invite them to rebuild their lives in the United States.
For six decades, these new citizens have been contributing to our communities in an infinite number of ways. Among them have been two secretaries of state, CEOs of Coke and Intel, several Nobel laureates, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and countless doctors, teachers, small business owners, factory workers, farmers and other hard-working taxpayers.
Then came September 11. Among the casualties of that horrible day has been the U.S. refugee admissions program. Shortly after the attacks, the United States stopped admitting refugees while it reviewed security measures and put in place new screening procedures.
Subsequently, on November 21, President Bush, in consultation with Congress, committed to admitting 70,000 refugees in the current fiscal year. However, government agencies have done little to get the program back on track, and refugees are arriving at an unacceptably slow pace.
By January 1, three months into the new fiscal year, fewer than 1,000 refugees had been admitted, even though 20,000 had already been approved by the government for entry into the United States. Now they're in limbo, stranded in dangerous conditions and facing an uncertain future. It is equally disturbing that other desperate and eligible refugees are now not even being considered for admission, as they would have been in the past.
But the issue is not just about numbers. Our caseworkers around the United States constantly remind me of the heartbreaking stories of refugee families who were separated by conflict-parents from children, husbands from wives-who are anxiously awaiting reunification in America. Their lives have been put on hold.
In January, more bad news hit. We learned that Washington may cut the already agreed upon 2002 refugee quota by as much as 30 percent. Other western nations are sadly following America's lead, and are also cutting back on admitting refugees.
Along with other refugee advocates, the IRC is seeking to keep the spotlight on the issue of refugee admissions. We are urging Congress and the Administration to remove roadblocks and ensure that the government meets President Bush's commitment to welcome 70,000 refugees to safety in the United States this year. I urge you to keep abreast of developments.
(From the Spring 2002 edition of the International Rescue Committee's newsletter, "The IRC At Work.")