Catholic groups have reminded Donald Trump that “refugees have been on the frontlines” fighting COVID-19 and have urged the US president to “return to historic norms” in the country’s resettlement intake.

– Trump administration has cut refugee admissions goals by 80%

Over 180 organisations committed to refugee rights and humanitarian protection – including the International Catholic Migration Commission and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – wrote to Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo August 31 to express their “strong support” for a “robust” US refugee resettlement program and urging that the president work to take in 95,000 new arrivals in fiscal year 2021 (October 2020 – September 2021).

That 95,000 figure was the average annual refugee admissions goal in the US from 1980, the year the US Refugee Act was passed, to 2017. The number of refugees the US aims to take in annually is set every year in September, via a process known as the Presidential Determination.

In 2018, however, the Presidential Determination set the US refugee admissions ceiling at just 45,000, followed by 30,000 in 2019 and 18,000 in 2020. The actual number of refugees arriving in the US has been even lower.

Those declining numbers are the reason why the human rights groups reminded Trump that the US refugee resettlement program is a “vital” and “life-saving” initiative “that protects the most vulnerable refugees and helps to reunite families fractured by forced migration”.

– Hundreds of thousands of refugees working in hospitals, on food supply chain

In their letter to the president, the refugee rights groups set out a series of advantages to a strong resettlement program, including it being “a humanitarian expression of our core American values”, “a strategic tool… to stabilize sensitive regions” around the world and “a positive economic driver” for US communities.

A generous resettlement program is also a must in the time of COVID-19 and “in the midst of the worst global displacement crisis in world history, with more than 29.6 million refugees worldwide”, the groups implored the president.

The organisations writing to the president also pointed out that since 1980 the US has welcomed over three million refugees, who have become citizens, civic leaders and entrepreneurs “and have contributed enormously to our country”.

That contribution that refugees have made to US society has only been intensified during COVID-19, the humanitarian groups stressed, in the fight against which refugees have been “essential”.

“Over 176,000 refugees are healthcare professionals treating COVID-19 patients in hospitals and nursing homes and clinics, and over 175,000 are part of the US food supply chain, laboring as farm workers who put food on our tables, and truck drivers and grocery store workers making sure the shelves are stocked”, the organisations reminded President Trump.

They added that “refugees have been on the frontlines reaching out as new neighbors to help the communities that welcomed them to overcome this virus”.

– Resettlement “a life-saving foreign policy and humanitarian tool”

Calling resettlement “a critical safety net in the humanitarian system” that
“less than one percent of refugees worldwide have access to”, the humanitarian groups listed the threats displaced people globally are subject to, including wars, religious persecution and gender-based violence.

Those dangers and others like them led the groups to urge the Department of State to shore up the US refugee resettlement program “as a life-saving foreign policy and humanitarian tool”.

“We believe having a robust U.S. refugee resettlement program is part and parcel of strong U.S. leadership and also promotes democracy and supports the United States’ foreign policy priorities agenda abroad”, the refugee rights group concluded in their letter to President Trump.

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.