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September 10, 2018

How to Address the Global Refugee Crisis and Safeguard U.S. National Security

Historically, the United States has been a global leader in protecting vulnerable refugees fleeing persecution. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized the moral and strategic importance of a strong commitment to refugee protection. But the Trump Administration has adopted policies that diverge from this historic leadership, to the detriment of U.S. national security interests. Under PresidentTrump’s directives, the United States has banned refugees from Muslim-majority countries, decimated the U.S. refugee resettlement program, curtailed access to asylum, taken children from the arms of asylum- seeking parents, refused to release refugees from U.S. immigration jails, and undermined due process in asylum adjudications. Thus far this fiscal year, the United States resettled only 60 Syrian refugees, a 99% drop from 2016.

The president and administration officials have repeatedly employed rhetoric that paints refugees and asylum seekers as threats, frauds and criminals. Even though unauthorized border crossings are at historically low levels, the president directed that the National Guard bedeployed to the U.S. southern border “until” Congress strips away legal protections and authorizes the long-term detention of children and families seeking refugee protection.

This race to the bottom has global consequences. Not only have thousands of refugees had their lives irreparably impacted, but the global humanitarian and human rights systems themselves are threatened by the Trump Administration’s statements and actions.

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In addition to relieving human suffering, these systems foster global stability and security. The United States should change course immediately, before the damage is irreversible.

Though the global refugee crisis lacks easy solutions, there are many steps the United States could take to alleviate suffering and increase regional and global security—if the U.S. government were invested in tackling the problem. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s political strategy seems to reston fomenting public anxiety around questions of migration. Until this changes, Congress must use its legislative and oversight authorities to restore U.S. global leadership on refugee protection, the courts must stand firm behind U.S. legal obligations, and American citizens must demand an end to politicized fearmongering.

The government has policy tools that would allow it to lead a comprehensive initiative to address the global refugee and displacement crisis. By working with the international community to effectively address these challenges, the United States could safeguard the stability of strategically-important countries and regions, bolster allies, enhance the ability of front-line countries to host refugees, uphold the rule of law internationally, and restore its tarnished global leadership.

As the world leader in humanitarian assistance and resettlement, the United States has a unique role to play, both in leading by example and in encouraging other states to increase their aid, development investment, and resettlement contributions. Most critically, the United States should champion adherence to human rights and refugee protection conventions, promoting the rule of law globally and supporting the ability of many refugees to live safely in countries near their homes.

This paper lays out key steps that the United States should take to lead a comprehensive initiative to address the global refugee crisis. Though the Trump Administration is unlikely to put these measures into effect any time soon, it is important that those interested in fixing the global refugee crisis understand that the U.S. government has many tools at its disposal should it choose to use them.