Waiting for Refugees Who Are Not Coming

By Sharon Samber, HIAS.org

Activists gathered at Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport this morning to “welcome” refugees who will not arrive in the U.S. during the next year because of the Trump administration’s historically low refugee admissions ceiling. 

With stoic faces and somber black welcome balloons, the group convened for nearly 95 minutes, symbolizing the average annual refugee ceiling – 95,000 – set by each administration since the Refugee Act became law in 1980. 

“There are no refugees coming today because the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is under attack,” said HIAS Vice President for Policy and Advocacy Naomi Steinberg.

The number of refugees expected to be admitted to the United States this coming fiscal year is 18,000. That cap represents a 40% cut from last year’s number, and it comes amidst the largest global refugee crisis in recorded history.

Faith-based and secular refugee resettlement agencies have for years greeted countless refugee families at National Airport and other U.S. airports and helped them get established in their new home communities. This morning’s action, organized by HIAS, was co-sponsored by twelve organizations that work directly with or advocate for refugees: Activate Labs, Church World Service, Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Franciscan Action Network, Human Rights First, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, National Council of Jewish Women, Refugee Congress, Refugee Council USA, Religious Action Center, Sojourners, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and Veterans for American Ideals.

Participants in the action noted that the U.S. has a long legacy of welcoming refugees who are fleeing religious persecution, torture, war, and terror, but instead of welcoming tens of thousands more people, the U.S. has shut its doors and refugees are now stranded in unsafe and potentially life-threatening situations.

“The Trump administration continues to “decimate and destroy the refugee program,” said

Rev. Noel Anderson of Church World Service, who added that refugee resettlement is part of U.S. history, and welcoming refugees is part of the Christian faith. Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director, Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) noted that refugee families are “devastated.”

The administration unofficially proposed the refugee admissions number, known as the Presidential Determination, in late September. HIAS asks supporters to call upon their member of Congress to support refugees and restore resettlement by ensuring that the U.S. will welcome at least 95,000 refugees.