This afternoon, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joined refugee and faith leaders in a discussion about Trump’s forthcoming Executive Orders aimed at refugees and their families. It is currently understood that his proposal would suspend the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days; ban the arrival of Syrian refugees; and, reduce the overall number of refugees who will enter the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000.
Here are their remarks.
Secretary Madeleine Albright
Thank you. I am honored to join this call and want to thank the members of the Refugee Council USA for working every day to help refugees succeed in this country.
Most of you have seen the draft executive order on immigration and refugees that the President is expected to sign. If signed as written, it would ban Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days, cut in half the number of refugees we can admit, and halt all travel from certain Muslim countries.
Having looked at this order, I felt I had no choice but to speak out against it in the strongest possible terms. In doing so, I want to make three points.
First, it is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America's core values. We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement. As a refugee who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness. This order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria. It does not represent who we are as a country.
Second, this measure would directly harm our security interests. As you all know, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East poses an extraordinary threat to the stability of that region and to our allies in Europe. We need to be doing more, not less, to alleviate the problem – and one important way to do that is to accept a modest number of thoroughly vetted refugees. The signing of this executive order sends a terrible signal to our allies in Europe and in the Middle East, who will now have an excuse to do less. It will also be a gift to ISIS, which has been telling Muslims around the world that the west is their enemy. I have no doubt they will use this order as propaganda to support that claim.
Third, there is no data to support the idea that refugees pose a threat.
This policy is based on fear, not facts. The refugee vetting process is robust and thorough. It already consists of over 20 steps, ensuring that refugees are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler.
The process typically takes 18-24 months, and is conducted while they are still overseas. I am concerned that this order’s attempts at “extreme vetting” will effectively halt our ability to accept anyone at all. . When the administration makes wild claims about Syrian refugees pouring over our borders, they are relying on alternative facts – or as I like to call it, fiction.
The truth is that America can simultaneously protect the security of our borders and our citizens and maintain our country’s long tradition of welcoming those who have nowhere else to turn. These goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are the obligation of a country built by immigrants.
Refugees should not be viewed as a certain burden or potential terrorists. They have already made great contributions to our national life. Syrian refugees are learning English, getting good jobs, buying homes, and starting businesses. In other words, they are doing what other generations of refugees – including my own – did. And I have no doubt that, if given the opportunity, they will become an essential part of our American fabric.
Let me end by pointing out that yesterday, I tweeted about my own background. I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian and then found out I was Jewish. I said in my tweet that should a registry of Muslims be instituted by this administration, I would add my name to such a list.
Such a registry is not included in the language of this order, but by targeting Muslim-majority countries for immigration bans and by expressing a clear preference for refugees who are religious minorities, there’s no question this order is biased against Muslims. And when one faith is targeted, it puts us all at risk.
When I came here as a child, I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and seeing the Statue of Liberty. It proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty, and today she is weeping because of the actions of President Trump.
Naomi Steinberg, Director, RCUSA
Refugee Council USA firmly opposes President Trump’s proposed Executive Order. It is profoundly un-American to turn our backs on those who are seeking safety and to discriminate against groups of people because of nationality and religion. Welcoming refugees makes America safer and stronger and we will do all that we can to ensure that the proud tradition of resettling refugees from around the world continues.
Hans Van de Weerd, Chair, RCUSA/Vice President for U.S. Programs, International Rescue Committee
These are frightening days for refugees and testing days for America. What we’ve learned about the proposed Executive Order is that it abandons this country’s long-standing message of tolerance. If President Trump insists on turning his back on those who try to flee terror, it is inhumane and irresponsible.
This Executive Order sets a terrible example for the rest of the world. It is important to understand the potential consequences of the Executive Order and their harmful nature. This will create a situation where thousands of families will lose their access to opportunity and security. Here in the US, it would leave Muslim families and communities in uncertainty over whether they will ever be reunited with their loved ones.
To us, it seems the decisions of the administration are ill-informed and hasty, built on false premises and ‘alternative facts.’ Refugees are not terrorists and it is absurd that this [Executive] Order seems to blame them for the terror they are trying to flee.
Juliette Kayyem, Former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at Department of Homeland Security
There is a reason why no administration has had an outright ban on any country or status of immigrant or refugee. And it’s not because they’re politically correct. There are three fundamental issues related to counterterrorism policy that had us take a different approach. The first component of that approach is technology and rigorous review. A whole class of people is a big group, and technology has the capability to determine who is who and other identifications that would allow certainty about the person coming in and their background. So, the idea that you’d exclude a whole group of people is taking excessive measures.
Melanie Nezer, Vice President, Policy and Advocacy, HIAS
Throughout our history, the United States has been a leader in refugee protection and a beacon of hope for persecuted people. But President Trump wants to close the doors on Syrian and other refugee families when they need our help the most. Refugees are more thoroughly vetted and screened than anyone else who comes to the United States. There are more refugees in the world now than at any time in recorded history, and there are wait lists across the country of Americans who want to welcome refugees. We should be doing more, not less, to offer safety and a new beginning to these families who lost everything and want nothing more than to live in peace."
Rev. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ remains fully committed to caring for the immigrant and the refugee. Our faith requires we do that even when American power-brokers compel us to stop. No wall or Executive Order will deter us from our call to serve the stranger with love and welcome. No president will compel us to fear our Muslim or Mexican neighbor. Our most clear directive is, and will remain, to love our neighbor as ourself.
Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, Committee Chair for Migration at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
We believe in assisting all who are vulnerable and who are fleeing persecution. They are all children of God and all entitled to human dignity and refuge. We believe that through resettlement of the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.
Scott Arbeiter, President of World Relief and Evangelical Pastor
The decision to restrict all entry of refugees and other immigrants … contradicts the American tradition of welcoming families who come to the United States to start their lives again in safety and dignity. The American people — most of whom can trace their own families’ stories through a similar immigrant journey in search of freedom — are a hospitable people.