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More than 200 asylum seekers boarded a plane in Texas this month and were flown to Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some were choked, beaten, and forced to sign their own deportation orders here in the US. Many faced arrest and execution upon landing in their former countries. Their crime was speaking out against oppressive regimes in these foreign lands. Their mistake was trusting that the United States was still a place of welcome under the Trump administration.
I met people like them, asylum seekers and refugees alike, last October with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And the stories that we heard that day are the most traumatic I’ve ever heard in my life. As a former refugee from Somalia and now an American citizen working in refugee and immigration policy, I can say unequivocally that President Trump’s policies are a betrayal of American values.
President Trump was required by law to consult with Congress by September 30, 2020, before setting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States for the current fiscal year. Instead of meeting that date, he waited four weeks, grinding refugee resettlement to a halt. Trump finally signed the order in the wee hours of October 28, setting a historic low ceiling of 15,000. That’s not even enough to fill a quarter of an NFL stadium.
It doesn’t get much more un-American than this. We are supposed to be the shining light on the hill, where it is simply unconscionable to send people back into violent places where the risk of persecution and death is very real.
If you still aren’t swayed by the terror facing families in some of the most dangerous places in the world, then at least consider what’s at stake for America if we allow this to happen. Trump’s number is more than just an embarrassment—the average admissions goal over the past 40 years has been 95,000—it demonstrates his distinct lack of understanding of how refugees impact businesses and the American economy.
‘I have a job, I pay rent, I pay taxes. I love America.’
As a former refugee, I have a job, I pay rent, I pay taxes. I love America and have voted in every election since I was 18. So before anyone—refugee or not—checks the box for the next president, let’s look at the facts about refugees.
Although forced from their homes, with little to their names, refugees arrive here and get to work. As Americans, we long have praised the work ethic and determination of those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That same adulation should then be given to refugees.
In the first few years after refugees join our communities, their median household income is roughly $22,000. But within a single generation, that figure soars to $67,000—a full $14,000 more than the median income of US households overall.
While they are prospering and contributing to our communities, refugees are paying a massive amount into the tax system—$63 billion dollars in the previous 10 years alone. Trump, meanwhile, paid $750 in taxes last year. You do the math.
Refugees create jobs as entrepreneurs. Refugees have a higher rate of owning businesses (13 percent) than US-born individuals (9 percent). Just ask the founders of Google, Yahoo, Tesla, and eBay. And that’s not to mention thousands of small businesses: the ones we always point to as the backbone of the American economy and the embodiment of the American can-do spirit.
For anyone who uses the cover of a pandemic to make the case for why America should shut its doors to refugees, think again. In a 2018 survey, health care stood out as the second most common area for refugee workers in the United States, with 15.6 percent of all refugees—some 176,000 workers strong—serving in the sector. If you or a loved one has needed health care in the past six months, there is a high probability that some of that care was delivered by a refugee.
Worried about America’s food supply? More than 46,000 refugees work in food processing, including more than 9,300 butchers and meat-processing workers. Been to the grocery store lately? More than 31,000 refugees work in supermarkets, including 2,400 shelf stockers and 2,100 freight and stock movers.
Want a strong military? Immigrant populations, including refugees and asylum seekers, serve the US military in droves—65,000 served in the armed forces last year. They serve to keep the flame of liberty alive. Thousands served as translators and advisors to the US military in dangerous conflict zones, at enormous risk to their lives and the lives of their families.
Trump’s anti-refugee stance erodes our moral standing. It also has dangerous economic consequences and national security implications for years to come. That’s why we must look to the facts, and into our hearts, to ensure that an immigration system rooted in hate becomes a thing of the past. It’s better for our communities, it’s better for our pocketbooks, and it’s better for the ailing heart of this nation.