"If we ever close the door to new Americans," warned President Reagan, "our leadership in the world would soon be lost." These "bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity" were, in Reagan’s mind, a central source of American greatness. "The Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door."
And it wasn’t just rhetoric: Reagan set the annual ceiling for refugee resettlement at an average level of more than 89,000 refugees per year.
This year, however, the refugee ceiling has fallen to a historically low 30,000, and senior advisers are reportedly recommending to President Trump that he end the program altogether in the upcoming year, setting a ceiling of zero.
To do so would mean closing the door to those who have fled persecution, who yearn for the safety, freedom and opportunity promised by our Statue of Liberty. "As a beacon of freedom and opportunity that draws the people of the world, no country on earth comes close,” Reagan boasted in 1989, but last year, for the first time, Canada – with one-ninth our population – welcomed a greater number of refugees. If we are going to close the golden door on refugees altogether, we should perhaps surrender the Statue of Liberty to our northern neighbor.
Among those shut out by the termination of the refugee resettlement program would be Christians and others persecuted for their faith. Over the past decade, there have been more Christian refugees admitted to the U.S. than any other religion, and many were persecuted precisely because of their faith. But the number of persecuted Christians welcomed into the U.S. has plummeted, mirroring the decline in overall admission numbers.
In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. welcomed 16,702 Christian refugees who had fled the 50 countries on Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List for Christian Persecution. Last year, that number was fewer than 5,000, a decline of nearly 75 percent. Next year, if Trump listens to his advisers, the number will be zero.
The number of Muslims refugees is down starkly as well, which is a campaign promise (largely) kept. But Trump also committed to making it easier for Syrian Christian refugees to resettle in the U.S., a promise he has broken. How can a country founded on values derived from the Christian faith – on the idea that all people are created equal, endowed by their Creator with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – abandon persecuted Christians seeking safety and religious liberty?
Among those who will be shut out as refugees are individuals who have risked their lives as translators for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly led the internal opposition to a reduced refugee ceiling within the White House. He and others at the Pentagon knew that a broken promise of protection to those who have assisted our soldiers would make it much more difficult to recruit translators in any future military endeavor, potentially putting U.S. military personnel at risk.
Opposition also reportedly came from United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, whose husband served in Afghanistan. "When my husband’s troops came back, those interpreters were going to be killed," she said. "The refugee program allowed for him and his colleagues to help get those two interpreters here. They are now good, hard-working people in the United States, and their families are safe. And they kept our soldiers safe. So, the refugee program itself is a good one."
But with Mattis and Haley no longer in the cabinet, there may be no counterweight to adviser Stephen Miller, who “would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil.”
Rather than listening to Miller, President Trump should heed the wisdom of President Reagan. Reagan, too, ran on “a national crusade to make America great again” back in 1980. But Reagan believed that “one of the most important sources of America’s greatness” was that “unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world.”
President Trump has a choice to make: Will he slam shut the golden door by banning refugees altogether? Or will he truly restore American greatness, stand by those who have stood by our troops and keep his promise to protect persecuted Christians – by reviving the U.S. refugee program?