Every year, Charlotte plays a small role in resettling refugees from around the globe who are fleeing war, famine and other horrors. It is a crucial one, though, for the 700 people – largely women and children – who find a new home and a far more secure life in Charlotte each year.
Now that role is likely to become even smaller, just as the number of refugees worldwide reaches historic levels.
The Trump administration announced Monday that it was setting a maximum limit of 30,000 refugees entering the U.S. in the coming year. That is by far the lowest limit since the current refugee law took effect 39 years ago. The ceiling was over 200,000 at the beginning of the Reagan administration and was at 110,000 under President Obama in fiscal year 2017.
Then President Trump slashed it to 45,000 for 2018, setting a new low. Now he has cut it dramatically further, undercutting America’s status as the world’s leader in resettling refugees — a status celebrated by the Statue of Liberty and fundamental to who we are as a nation.
Charlotte has welcomed refugees in recent years from Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, the Congo, Bhutan, Myanmar and a half-dozen other countries. The staff and volunteers who dedicate their lives to reducing the burden of these people describe them as desperate and grateful. They are often families with young children and elderly grandparents, seeking only survival, and they have been thoroughly vetted, sometimes in a years-long process, before entering the country.
But allowing vetted refugees into the country is not just some feel-good altruistic move. It’s strategically helpful to the United States in a number of ways. It rewards and encourages locals to help U.S. personnel in combat zones. It also builds goodwill between the U.S. and those countries closest to the war zones that are carrying the biggest burden from housing refugees.
North Carolina’s leaders are doing nothing to help. Then-Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015 called for a ban on all Syrian refugees coming into North Carolina. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have not exerted any apparent influence on the Trump administration to be more accepting of refugees. A group of 40 rabbis from around North Carolina have signed a letter to elected NC officials calling attention to the needs of immigrants and refugees. They have been trying to meet or have a call with Tillis since July with little response.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of the record-low ceiling on Monday is yet another moment when the Trump administration forces America to ask itself what its true and lasting values are. Do we want to continue to be a caring and compassionate nation while remaining secure? Or must we turn inward and insular and abandon the role of world leader we have played for 200 years?