What Will a Trump Presidency Mean for the Refugee Community?
Donald Trump’s administration-in-waiting doesn’t skew toward the Right — it skews toward the medieval. And that’s left thousands of political refugees wondering: what’s going to happen to me now? The US has had a troubling couple of years where refugees are concerned, and regrettably, the results of the 2016 election are unlikely to ease the worries of folks who just came here to better their lives.
What remarkably seems to be forgotten is that the US has welcomed almost 3 million refugees in the last 40 years. And for the most part, we’ve heard nary a peep about it. But lo and behold: when you assemble a bunch of Far-Right presidential aspirants on a stage together, they play “race to the bottom” to figure out who can assemble the least-American response to these difficult world crises.
Lest we forget, Trump wasn’t alone in calling for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. “Creepy” Ted Cruz proposed the same course of action, and like a waxy-faced Pied Piper, helped lead 31 state governors on a quixotic quest to close their states to refugees, federal rules notwithstanding.
So when it comes to anti-immigration rhetoric, Trump hardly stands alone. Despite the famous engraving on the Statue of Liberty, we’ve hardened our hearts to some of the world’s least lucky people. So shame on the Far-Right, and shame on the rest of us for letting them get away with it.
Moving Beyond Campaign Rhetoric
When it comes to 2017, the refugee crisis and Trump’s Muslim ban will likely continue to take center stage — because the Syrian civil war shows few signs of resolving itself, and the mobilization of the racist and the reckless continues unabated now that Trump believes he has a “mandate” to live up to his campaign promises.
And what has he promised? It tends to change depending on who he’s talking to, but Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration now looks likely to be replaced by something far more Orwellian: a Muslim registration database for refugees and immigrants who have reached US shores.
I want you to think long and hard about the chaos we’d visit upon this nation if somebody from the Left reaches of the political spectrum proposed a registry on Christians in this country. Something tells me it wouldn’t be much different from the reaction gun registry database proposals have received.
Even more worryingly, the Far Right doesn’t just understand this proposed registry’s resemblance to Japanese-American internment back in the mid-1940s — they’re welcoming the comparisons, and using them to justify what they’re proposing. This goes far beyond merely “not learning from history” and actually approaches self-parody.
The United States’ Response to the Refugee Crisis
Let’s get back to the idea that Trump now has a “mandate” based on the election results. He does not. He won neither the popular vote nor a majority of votes. He’s president only because an arcane and wholly unnecessary political apparatus says he is.
So, no — he has no obligation to live up to his campaign promises. If there’s a flicker of humanity inside him, he must understand this. If nothing else, the polling should help persuade him that a self-styled “President for Everybody” must acquiesce to the will of the people. And right now, the people are against him.
Most recent polling suggests that a majority — sometimes an impressive majority — of American citizens approve of the United States’ current refugee crisis action plan. Thanks to global surveys performed and published by Amnesty International, we know that as much as 80% of the public is open to welcoming immigrants into the United States. This is a stunning figure, and does much to shed light on the vast distance between proposed state and federal policies and the public’s understanding of the phrase “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
Reminders for Trump and the Far-Right About Immigration
This is definitely a mixed bag of good news and bad news, but hope remains: asylum experts believe Trump will have difficulty implementing the draconian policies he’s been talking about for the past 18 months.
To begin with, any change in United States asylum policy would require changing our laws, and that means getting Congress involved. And while it’s true that the Republican Party has a commanding majority in both houses of Congress, Democrats aren’t likely to let these sort of sweeping (not to mention un-American) changes stand without opposition.
Then, there’s the very real, very proven fact that immigration is almost always a positive force. The financial benefits alone of welcoming refugees are clear and very well-documented. Immigration can help breathe new life into our economy and our culture.
Moreover, the United States does not exist in a vacuum. The United Nations clearly defines different types of “harm” a refugee may be fleeing from, and if an individual fears for their life based on these accepted definitions of harm, the US may find itself bound by treaties, such as the UN Convention Against Torture, which defines a very particular type of harm that’s sadly relevant to today’s ongoing humanitarian crises.
In other words, based on UN stipulations, the US may have no choice but to accept incoming refugees. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s clearly a national embarrassment for us, that we need the UN to help us parse the difference between right and wrong.
And finally, if the thunderous opposition our new president-elect is receiving from the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is any indication, the voices representing progress in this country won’t tolerate bans, registrations, internment or any other form of not-quite-human treatment we were supposed to have left behind in the pages of history. Trump might have bluster on his side, but we know who holds the moral high ground.