America slams door on refugees

Back in 2015, when I wrote unfavorably comparing America’s intake of Syrian refugees with Europe’s, my daughter (working in the Middle East for humanitarian organizations) reminded me that overall, we had been welcoming more refugees than any other nation. This indeed made me proud of my country.

Both international and U.S. law establish a right of asylum when a refugee has a reasonable fear of persecution in their home country, for various specified reasons. Asylum seekers have a legal right to a day in court for their claims. Not only is this baseline human decency, but most refugees coming here have contributed far more to this country than they cost us. They’ve helped make America great. 

The U.S. government sets an annual cap on refugee admissions. It once was about 235,000. The Trump administration has slashed that by over 93% to just 15,000 — the lowest ever. While actually, new restrictions and policies now make it almost impossible to gain asylum.

NPR’s This American Life  last week profiled Jessica and Moisés, a Nicaraguan couple, prominent political activists against their nation’s repressive Ortega regime. Moisés was taken away to its torture center. The graphic details were not easy listening. But somehow he managed to come out alive . . . this time. He and his wife decided they had to escape Nicaragua, with their young child. Though America was almost closed, there seemed to be a window. The U.S. condemns Nicaragua’s leftist tyranny. While our current requisites for political asylum are restrictive, Moisés did research and determined their case should qualify. He prepared a file with ample documentation, even including his torturers’ names.

The three set out on the terrible, perilous trek through Mexico, and managed to survive it. They got across the Rio Grande and, to their relief, immediately encountered U.S. border agents. Moisés literally laid out his documents on the sand and in fluent English claimed political asylum in accordance with U.S. law. The three people were taken into custody, separated; for twelve days, held in miserable squalid conditions. Told nothing. Then put on a bus to an airplane. Then, with other migrants, flown back to Nicaragua. Nobody ever looked at the documents.

The Nicaraguan police were waiting at the airport on arrival. Moises knew his cache of documents would constitute a death sentence. While queueing for processing he managed to surreptitiously eat the pages. Then, apparently, the slipshod cops failed to red-flag the family, and they were sent to a parent’s home. But they knew the police would be back, and they were in extreme danger. They managed to find a house where Jessica and Moisés, without their daughter, could immure themselves in strict hiding, in an attic.

I’d been hoping that, inasmuch as the couple was being interviewed for the story, it would have a happier ending. But no, that was it.

The U.S. State Department’s website still proclaims: “The United States is proud of its history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. The U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the United States’ highest values and aspirations to compassion, generosity and leadership.”

The NPR report quoted the U.S. government’s official characterization of Nicaragua’s regime: “utter disregard for human life and democratic freedoms.” That better describes America now too, than does the State Department website.

Joe Biden has personally promised me to reverse these cruel inhuman policies.

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