New York, NY, February 6, 2019 — For his annual State of the Union address, President Trump chose the theme ‘American Greatness,’ but he failed to highlight what truly makes America great: our legacy of supporting people affected by violence and persecution here and around the world. Instead, President Trump distorted the record on people seeking asylum at the border. Notably absent from the President’s remarks were the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the historic scale of forced displacement globally.
Let’s set the record straight.
Correcting the Record: The U.S. Southern Border
It comes as no surprise that the President used his State of the Union speech to demand funding for the border wall under the guise of a manufactured ‘crisis’. In reality, the number of irregular border crossings, as reflected in Customs and Border Patrol’s arrest statistics, are the lowest they’ve been in decades. The real crisis is the instability in Central America which is forcing people to flee for their lives, coupled with the administration’s systematic attacks on these same vulnerable individuals. Rather than offering safe haven, the U.S. administration continues to erode safe pathways by blocking people from claiming asylum, separating families as part of its ‘zero tolerance’ effort, and forcibly returning asylum seekers to Mexico as part of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.
Seeking asylum is legal. Turning asylum seekers away is not. The “Remain in Mexico” policy robs asylum seekers of their due process rights, including access to legal counsel, and will expose thousands of families and children to unsafe conditions. Therefore, the IRC calls on the U.S. Administration to rescind this cruel and irresponsible policy, follow domestic and international law, and uphold America’s humanitarian commitments.
Filling in the Blanks: Yemen
Despite being the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, President Trump failed to address Yemen in his speech. Over the course of nearly 4 years of fighting, the healthcare system has been decimated, the economy has collapsed, and millions of Yemenis can no longer afford food for themselves or their children. According to the UN, more than 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Weapons sales from the United States are fueling this conflict and humanitarian catastrophe, which is why the IRC is calling for the U.S. to end its military support and use its leverage to push for an inclusive peace agreement to end the war. Recent political developments signal progress, but the humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to decline.
On the ground, the IRC is delivering health services, rehabilitating water points for access to clean water, providing nutrition assistance and treatment to children, and supporting women in safe spaces. But an end to the conflict is essential. The recent peace agreement is only the first step on a long road to a peaceful and stable Yemen. Although the President remained silent on this crisis in the State of the Union, there is no excuse for inaction.
A True Legacy of Greatness: Welcoming Refugees in the U.S
Finally, President Trump neglected to address the historic global refugee crisis. Right now, over 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes, including over 25 million refugees who have fled their countries in search of safety. These numbers are the highest since World War II. Although he invoked the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust, the president failed to acknowledge the countless lives that could have been saved had Jewish refugees not been turned away by the United States. The president overlooked how his administration’s own refugee policies are harming Iraqis and Afghans who have fought alongside American troops.
America’s legacy of greatness as a safe haven for refugees is in jeopardy. In September 2018, the administration set the lowest refugee admissions since the resettlement program was established. To make matters worse, based on the current pace of refugee admissions, it is unlikely that even this extremely low ceiling will be met. This simply is not enough. The United States must never abandon its proud legacy of offering stability to people fleeing war and oppression.
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The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.