Trump's refugee death sentence

  • by Jessica Stern
  • Wednesday October 18, 2017
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On October 1, with the start of the 2018 fiscal year, President Donald Trump's aggressive restructuring of federal funds and policies became a reality. The cuts he has introduced, under the veil of national security, are blatantly discriminatory, and speak loudly to his xenophobic, anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim agenda. Notably, Trump's recent decision to slash annual refugee intake by more than half will lead to violence and even the deaths of countless people facing persecution daily, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people.

The decision to take an ax to the asylum program, cutting the maximum number of refugees down to 45,000, has brought the admissions rate to an all-time low. More than half of the 110,000 spaces allotted in 2017 by the Obama administration will be lost. This change comes at a time when the United Nations high commissioner for refugees estimates there are nearly 22.5 million refugees worldwide, and amidst a global crackdown on LGBTIQ rights and people. In just the past few months, over 180 people perceived to be LGBTIQ have been arbitrarily arrested, mistreated, and even tortured in Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia alone.

Since Congress enacted the Refugee Act of 1980, no president has ever lowered the refugee ceiling by this degree. The previous record was set by President Reagan, who in 1986 set a limit of 67,000. In reality, few administrations have ever hit their respective ceilings. In 2002, following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. admitted just 27,000 refugees, the lowest it has ever welcomed. This record breaking low occurred while the ceiling was still set at 70,000 individuals for the fiscal year, 25,000 more than this year.

The administration's refugee restrictions come on the heels of yet another unveiling of indefinite travel restrictions on six majority-Muslim countries, including Iran, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. In these nations, homosexuality can be punished with up to 10 years in prison or even death. OutRight Action International has documented more than 40 people killed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the border territories, for alleged homosexuality from 2014-2016 alone. Not only are his policies flagrantly discriminatory and anti-Muslim, but by closing the doors to people from these places, Trump is standing idly by while countless LGBTIQ people suffer state-sanctioned violence and even murder. Those who are Muslim and LGBTIQ stand to suffer twofold.

All the while, Trump continues to use fear-mongering and spews rhetoric pitting refugees, immigrants, and Muslims against the presumed safety of the American people. What Trump fails to understand is that these policies are not going to make Americans any safer. All of these blockades are set against the backdrop of an already rigorous vetting process that sometimes takes up to two years to complete. This lengthy process includes multiple interviews, checks against FBI and Homeland Security databases, fraud checks, fingerprinting, and photographs. With Trump's increased vetting procedures, the process could now take even longer, without significantly improving the process altogether.

These policies will instead put the lives of people fleeing rogue governments, persecution, criminalization, and war on the line; forcing people who have already been languishing for years in unsafe environments to continue to suffer. This is particularly true for LGBTIQ people who not only face discrimination and violence at home but often face even harsher treatment in places of first resettlement.

These policies are indicative of this administration's wider isolationist disposition and attempts to undermine a global system of multilateral cooperation. In September, Trump took the stage for the first time to speak to the world's leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, where he positioned sovereignty over multilateral relations. Saying "sovereign(ty)" over 21 times in his speech he stated, "Success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world." However, in this globalized and interconnected world, it is multilateral cooperation - not isolationism - that is going to promote security, prosperity, and peace. The refugee crisis cannot be addressed through policies that are nearsighted and discriminatory. Now more than ever we need an America that is part of the world, not one that is against it.

The U.S.'s new refugee ceiling signals a need for other nations to step in and bolster programs that rescue and resettle people in extreme duress. Every nation has a moral obligation to address and relieve human suffering. But regardless of who steps in to fill the vacuum, nothing absolves this administration of its inaction in the face of crisis.

LGBTIQ people face some of the most violent forms of persecution worldwide. Every day, dozens of LGBTIQ people are rounded up, detained, and even tortured for no other reason than being perceived as gay or transgender. By imposing this refugee ceiling and the travel ban, LGBTIQ refugees will be turned away and lives will be on the line. Trump is allowing for these LGBTIQ people to continue enduring extreme violence and is denying them of the only safety and freedom they may have had. Despite the empty promises he has made to the LGBTIQ community, Trump's actions make him complicit in the discrimination against LGBTIQ people globally. It is clear that the way to make Americans safer is not by closing our doors but by demonstrating respect for people from every country and ensuring that we put human rights and dignity first.

Jessica Stern is the executive director of OutRight Action International. For more information, visit .