U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021

On September 30, 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump will be submitting to Congress a report that he has determined that the U.S. will reduce its refugee admissions for Fiscal 2021 (October 1, 2020—September 30, 2021) to 15,000. [1]

It must be understood that the individuals who will be admitted to the U.S. under this quota already have been vetted and determined by a U.N. agency to have met the international and U.S. legal definition of “refugee:” someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[2]

The State Department attempted to reduce the adverse humanitarian consequences of this reduction by claiming, “The United States is committed to achieving the best humanitarian outcomes while advancing our foreign policy interests.  Given the dire situation of nearly 80 million displaced people around the world, the mission of American diplomacy is more important than ever.”

Other points of this attempt to reduce the adverse consequences of this decision are the following:

  • “In line with the U.S. National Security Strategy, we are working to assist refugees and other displaced people as close to their homes as possible until they can safely and voluntarily return to rebuild their lives, their communities, and their countries.  As part of our longstanding leadership in international humanitarian crisis response, the United States provided more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance in Fiscal Year 2019 and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance over the past decade.”
  • “The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “Refugee resettlement is only one aspect of U.S. humanitarian-based immigration efforts.  Since 1980, America has welcomed almost 3.8 million refugees and asylees, and our country hosts hundreds of thousands more people under other humanitarian immigration categories.  This year’s proposed refugee resettlement program continues that legacy with specific allocations for people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the United States has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba, and Venezuela.” (Emphasis added.)

The State Department continued, The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Emphasis added.)

According to the State Department, the U.S. anticipates receiving 285,000 asylum requests in the upcoming fiscal year. Such applications must meet the previously mentioned international and U.S. definition of “refugee.” However, the Department’s statement admits the U.S. has a  “massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals.”

After criticisms of this decision emerged from various groups that are discussed below, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo from Rome tried to defend this decision. He said, “We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so. Certainly so long as President Donald Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”

Reactions [3]

This establishment of a 15,000 quota for refugees is a 3,000 reduction from last year’s quota of 18,000, which was the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. In contrast, in Fiscal 2017, the last full year of the Obama Administration, the quota was 85,000 while the Trump Administration’s first two years (Fiscal 2018 and 2019) set the quotas at 53,000 and 30,000.

This further reduction is seen as another point of President Trump’s “anti-immigrant themes in the closing month of his re-election campaign.” It was done as the President was “unleashing a xenophobic tirade against one of the nation’s most prominent refugees, Representative Ilhan Oma, on Wednesday night at a rally in her home state of Minnesota.”

According to a Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, this presidential decision “in one fell swoop, . . .managed  to betray his country’s humanitarian interests, its national security interests, its economic interests and even his own narrow political interests to boot. . . . The only constituency helped by Trump’s latest cruelty are the bigots and knee-jerk nationalists crafting his policies. For the rest of us, it represents an incalculable loss.”

As anticipated, refugee advocacy groups condemned this decision.

  • Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, called the 15,000 cap an “abdication” of the nation’s humanitarian leadership role in the world. “This absurdly low number is based on nothing more than xenophobic political pandering, and it’s no surprise that this all-time low comes during an election year. We have shown as we have resettled thousands of refugees that there’s no evidence any of these arrivals have endangered Americans. Refugees come to this country after the most extreme vetting procedures, including medical-health checks.”
  • The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s Executive Director, Veena Iyer, said, “Slashing refugee numbers and refusing admission to desperate people whose lives are in danger, especially those whose lives are in danger because of their service to U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers, is appalling. Instead of leading the world in protecting the persecuted, the actions of this administration are an abdication of leadership.”
  • Oxfam America’s Isra Chaker said, “This inexcusable new admissions ceiling is a mere fraction of the number of refugees the United States can and should resettle in a year. During the final year of the previous administration, the U.S. safely and successfully resettled an average of 15,000 refugees every two months.”

The same reaction came from faith-based groups.

  • Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian aid agency, said Trump has reneged on his promise to protect persecuted Christians in the world. “Instead, we’ve seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90% in some cases over the last four years. This is unconscionable.”
  • Rev. John L. McCullough, head of the Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in the United States, “described the shrinking of refugee admissions as immoral and urged Congress to . . . recommend changes or seek to influence the decision through budgeting, but is largely powerless to alter the determination. . . .Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger.”
  • “The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, denounced the chipping away of the refugee program as part of “the ongoing Trump administration effort to maintain systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
  • Isaiah, a Minnesota faith coalition stated, “We know that we are better off together and that all of us, no matter where we come from or how we pray, want our communities to thrive and our voices to be heard. Overcoming tremendous challenges, Somali Minnesotans bravely moved to Minnesota with their families and have helped make this state vibrant.”

Finally this Trump decision is impeached by recent praises of refugees for their contributions to the economy and culture of 29 states by their governors (both Democrat and Republican).

For example, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz’s letter to Secretary Pompeo stated, ““Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Transmission of the President’s Report to Congress on the Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Sept. 30, 2020). 

[2] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1 (A)(2),189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954; Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. I(2), 606 U.N.T.S. 267, entered into force Oct. 4,, 1967; Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1101(a)(42), Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2010).

[3] U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S., dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 4, 2019); Kanno-Youngs & Shear, Trump Virtually Cuts Off Refugees as He Unleashes a Tirade on Immigrants, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2020); Rampell, Trump’s refugee ceiling is bad for everyone except bigots, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);  Watson & Lee, Faith Groups decry Trump’s plans for record low refugee cap, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020); Miroff, Trump cuts off refugee cap to lowest level ever, depicts them on campaign trail as a threat and burden, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);Smith, Trump administration again seeks to slash refugee numbers, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2020); Rights groups appalled as Trump cuts US refugee admissions to record low, Guardian (Oct. 1, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020). 

U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments

The now enjoined Trump executive order requiring state and local governments to consent to refugee resettlement has had what the President probably did not expect: many of the 42 states so consenting, all by their governors (both Republican and Democrat), also celebrated the many accomplishments of the previous refugees who have resettled in their states. These positive comments about refugees need to be remembered and continuously publicized, and so here they are. [1]

Alaska. Although the state has not officially submitted a consent letter to the federal government, its Governor in a press conference said, “the resettlement program has a longstanding history and is in line with U.S. and Alaska values.  I think America and Alaska get behind because, once again, it’s folks that are in situations where there’s war or some type of persecution and of course, when they apply to come here, the hope is that that’s put behind them and they can get on with their lives and be part of the state, if they choose to stay, and part of the country.”

Arizona. “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here. Refugees arriving in the United States have been vetted and approved by the appropriate national security agencies and Department of State and have been granted legal entry to make a new home in the land of the free.”

Arkansas.  “Arkansans have a history of welcoming refugees. While we fully support control of our borders and oppose illegal immigration, we also value the contribution of immigrants and understand the importance of America continuing to be a welcoming nation for those truly seeking refuge and following the legal path to our land. Immigrants bring energy, a thirst for freedom, and a desire to pursue the American dream. This is America’s strength and part of our future.”

California “The State of California is proud to be a welcoming state, and is committed to the continued resettlement of refugees in partnership with local jurisdictions and community partners. California recognizes its resettlement programs and services are an indispensable lifeline to refugees who have been forcibly dispatched from their home countries and cannot rebuild their lives where they first fled.”

“The refugee resettlement program has a long history in California, spanning over 40 years and successfully resettling over 700,000 men, women and children. During these four decades, refugees continuously have contributed to the enrichment of our economy, culture, and society. California’s communities have flourished because of their diversity and ongoing ability to embrace refugees and immigrant families. . . . Refugees deserve our support and we will keep our doors open to these families and people to sustain  an inclusive California for all.”

 Colorado. “Colorado will continue to assist and resettle more refugees in our communities as long as people around the world are displaced from their home countries.”

“Since 1980, Colorado has welcomed individuals and families fleeing persecution, war, and violence from all over the world through the United States Refugee Admissions Program. Having a robust refugee program ensures that we are upholding our American values of humanitarianism, freedom, and opportunity. Not only is investing in refugees the compassionate and humane thing to do, refugees contribute to our economy in ways that benefit all Coloradans. For every dollar Colorado invests in refugees, we receive a $1.23 return on investment in tax revenue, and four new Colorado jobs are created for every refugee who is resettled in our State.”

Connecticut. “It is a bedrock principle of the United States of America that we welcome to our shores those fleeing tyranny, persecution and violence. As you well know, prior to being admitted to the United States, a refugee must undergo a rigorous vetting process. And we know from our own experience here in Connecticut that refugees enrich the communities that offer them shelter- socially, culturally, and economically. In addition, many people are resettled in our country as part of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, because they have put their lives and safety, and that of their families, at risk to help ensure the success and safety of our military service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. Connecticut is proud to do its part to honor our country’s commitment to them. The policy of the Trump Administration over several years to cut dramatically the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States is antithetical to our heritage and our values.”

Delaware. “Our country has historically been a refuge of safe harbor for those fleeing war-torn countries, violence, and political persecution. We should continue to stand as a beacon of hope and freedom for people around the world. In that spirit, as Delawareans, we are proud to do our part, and continue to accept the resettlement of refugees.”

Illinois. “Since 1975, the State of Illinois has welcomed and resettled more than 130,000 refugees from more than 86 countries. In recent years, 1,000 to 3,000 refugees, those seeking asylum, and victims of human trafficking arrived in Illinois annually. Refugees have successfully rebuilt their lives and made positive social and economic contributions to Illinois. They have helped revitalize neighborhoods and added to the cultural vitality of our state and communities. As survivors of persecution, refugees embody the importance of human rights, democracy, and freedom. Refugees’ resilience in the face of hardship inspires courage, hope, and perseverance. And refugees’ countless contributions undoubtedly make our states and nation stronger.”

Indiana. “Indiana is a destination of certainty, stability and opportunity. As a state, we are on course to become the absolute best place in America to grow as an individual, a family, a business and as a community. Our long tradition of welcoming and helping to resettle refugees with support from our federal partners, shows the world the compassion of Hoosiers and our willingness to give others the ability to grow and prosper in the great state of Indiana.”

“In just the last five years, state based non-profit agencies have resettled thousands of deserving, qualified individuals in the Hoosier state, who have been fully and carefully vetted by relevant federal government agencies. These are . . . individuals who have gone through all the proper channels, were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs in their homeland and have sought and been granted refugee status in our nation of immigrants.”

Kansas. “Kansas has a long and proud history of welcoming the world’s refugees to our state. Refugees are not simply looking for a better home, they are fleeing some of the most horrific violence, war, famine, religious and cultural persecution of our time. Our country and our state can provide the security they need for a safer place to call home. The citizens of Kansas have shown time and again a strong commitment to welcoming refugees into communities statewide.”  She also said, “Refugees come to our country and state looking for a better place to live. Our country and our state benefit as they also make positive contributions in significant ways. They contribute to our economy, workforce and the cultural fabric of our state and nation.”

Maine. “For more than forty years, and under the leadership of seven Democratic, Republican and Independent governors, Maine has participated in the federal refugee resettlement program. Over the course of those decades we have welcomed nearly 10,000 people from more than 30 countries – people who have resettled in Maine with the hope of finding peace, safety and work for themselves and their families.”

“Maine has a workforce shortage, projected to grow worse over the next decade, creating serious challenges for businesses seeking to hire qualified workers in every industry and in every sector of our economy. Our state welcomes refugees who have skills, education and ability, a proven work ethic and tremendous drive. It is the right thing to do, and it is critical to the strength of our economy and our future success as a state.”

Massachusetts. “Massachusetts is committed to continuing to serve as a source of hope and opportunity, welcoming those seeking refuge with open arms and ensuring that newcomers feel safe, valued and supported as they settle into a new country and integrate into new communities.”

“The United States has a proud and noble tradition of serving as a country of refuge for those most vulnerable in the world. The Commonwealth welcomed 516 refugees last year, from 30 countries, and has welcomed 14,282 refugees over the past decade, from 59 countries. Throughout history, many of the refugees our Country admitted became distinguished scientists, government leaders, entrepreneurs, cultural icons, and public servants. We have much to gain in providing refuge to those in need. Foreign born employees provide significant support to our economy and make up a critical part of the health and human services sector workforce.”

Michigan. “Michigan has a rich history of welcoming refugees and other immigrants to our state. I am committed to ensuring that we remain a leader in responding to the needs of globally displaced families and individuals. We recognize the value of being a welcoming state, and the contribution of refugees to the fabric of our communities. Refugees enhance our state socially, culturally, and economically.”

Minnesota. “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”

“We will continue to work hard to ensure refugees become a thriving part of our communities, and I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming  patriotic and productive fellow Americans.”

Missouri. “Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders, and missionaries. Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of former refugees who have become vital members of our communities. Since 2002, nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri.”

“In Missouri, state organizations and faith-based groups work tirelessly to support refugee resettlement. Currently, there are five agencies that integrate refugees in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield, where they have helped strengthen local economies, especially through entrepreneurship. These groups do an excellent job of transitioning newly settled populations, ensuring they are educated, trained, and prepared to assimilate into their new community. In fact, St. Louis boasts one of the largest Bosnian populations outside that country itself. Community volunteers, especially faith-based partners, continue to be an integral part of such local resettlement efforts.”

Nevada. “Nevada is proud of our long-standing tradition of resettling refugees. Since the 1970s, Republican and Democratic Governors from Nevada have welcomed these individuals into our state with open arms. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of refugee children in the State Capitol. . . . While their unimaginable experiences of suffering and hardship may have originated in different areas around the globe, the personal stories they shared were defined by courage, hope and resilience. These stories embody the dignity and values of this country. Such is the story of Nevada Assemblyman Alexander Assefa. Mr. Assefa came to the U.S. as a refugee with similar hopes and dreams. After a lot of hard work, he became a pilot, a small business owner, and he now proudly serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Above all, he is a proud American.”

“We need not forget that refugees fled for their lives after enduring persecution, war and dire humanitarian conditions. Many waited several years in remote places, while undergoing extensive background checks and security clearances, for the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. Once here, refugees become productive, responsible and self-sufficient members of society and account for an important part of our workforce and that drives our economic engine.”

New Jersey. “New Jersey will continue to welcome refugees anxiously fleeing harm and seeking safety. It is not only the right response; it is the American response. We believe that America must remain a beacon of hope in the world, and we know that opening its doors to those facing danger and oppression is who we are as a nation. We are disheartened by recent attempts to undercut our commitment to freedom and opportunity by shrinking the numbers of who can seek comfort on our shores and by erecting new and significant barriers for refugees desperately reaching for safety. The announcement that your Administration will continue dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by reducing admission in the coming year to 18,000 from 30,000 -which was already a drastic decline from the 111,000 ceiling just two years ago – is devastating not only for those seeking refuge from harm but for the United States’ standing in the world.”

“New Jersey will continue to welcome refugees anxiously fleeing harm and seeking safety. It is not only the right response; it is the American response.”

“We believe that America must remain a beacon of hope in the world, and we know that opening its doors to those facing danger and oppression is who we are as a nation. We are disheartened by recent attempts to undercut our commitment to freedom and opportunity by shrinking the numbers of who can seek comfort on our shores and by erecting new and significant barriers for refugees desperately reaching for safety. The announcement that your Administration will continue dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by reducing admission in the coming year to 18,000 from 30,000 -which was already a drastic decline from the 111,000 cei ling just two years ago – is devastating not only for those seeking refuge from harm but for the United States’ standing in the world.”

“Over two million of our residents are immigrants, including refugees, representing nearly 23 percent of New Jersey’s population. There is no doubt that refugees have contributed to the strength of our state and have enriched our communities economically, culturally and socially. Refugees who have made New Jersey their home have helped our state thrive by growing our workforce, starting businesses, contributing to local economies, and becoming valued friends and neighbors.”

“We took these actions because we recognize that new Americans are integral to our State’s culture and our economy. Immigrants and refugees in New Jersey include over 120,000 entrepreneurs, employ more than 389,000 people and contribute over $24.2 billion in federal, State, and local taxes. In fact, 43 percent of the State’s science, technology, engineering, and math-focused workforce are new Americans who play a significant part in maintaining the State’s role as a leading innovator in the STEM field. Supporting immigrant and refugee integration is a smart strategy for our State and our country.”

“We know that a strong and vibrant democracy like ours requires that we live out our values through our deeds. To do so, we must continue to hold true to who we are as Americans by helping those who come seeking refuge from violence and persecution around the world. My Administration looks forward to continuing to work together with cities and towns across our great State to welcome immigrants and refugees.”

New Mexico. “New Mexico has always welcomed immigrants of all types, including more than 2,500 refugees from 28 countries who have resettled in New Mexico since 2002, adding to the rich multicultural mix of which New Mexicans are so rightly proud.”[2] She also said, “Unlike other immigrants, refugees have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether by war, famine, religious and cultural persecution or violence. They leave their home countries fearing for their lives, and they come to our shores and our borders often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, desperate — not for a handout but for a chance to start over.”

“While refugees arrive needing our help, they are often quick to pay back the country and communities that welcome them. They get jobs and pay taxes. They open businesses. They contribute their cuisines and cultures, bringing us new forms of entertainment and understanding.”

North Carolina. “North Carolina was one of the first states to welcome refugees to the United States after the United States Refugee Act was signed into law in 1980. Our state has a strong network of community and faith-based groups which aid in resettlement of refugees who seek safety from persecution.”

North Dakota. “North Dakota has had success at integrating refugees who have become responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce.”

Oregon. “Oregon opposed the President’s recent Executive Order on “refugee resettlement, and ask that you return this year’s refugee admission number to previous annual levels. The values reflected in this Executive Order are not the values on which our country was built.”

“It is a sad day for a nation founded on the principle of welcoming ‘poor, tired, and huddled masses.’ Nobody chooses to be a refugee. Refugees are just like us. They have jobs and families. They are parents and friends, teachers and doctors, farmers and fishermen. Since 1975, Oregon has resettled 67,743 refugees. Refugees contribute every day to the strength of our economy, our communities, and our culture. About 70 percent of refugees find employment within the first few months of resettlement. They pay taxes, buy homes, and open businesses. Their search for freedom and a better future for themselves and their children embodies what it means to be an American.”

Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania has a rich history of opening its doors to those facing persecution and danger. William Penn founded our commonwealth on the principle of religious freedom, seeking to allow those in Europe to escape persecution.”

“It is vital that America retain its moral authority throughout the world. And that means that when vulnerable and displaced individuals seek refuge from violence and oppression elsewhere, we welcome them to find that refuge in America. This maintains our image as a beacon of hope and freedom, and shows the world that America is the antithesis of the places these individuals are fleeing.”

“For decades, refugees have made our communities better, and I am committed to continuing that tradition to the fullest extent of my ability. In communities from Allentown to Lancaster to Erie, and elsewhere, refugees are resettling, making a home, finding employment, starting businesses, paying taxes, and enriching their communities. Church World Service, based in Lancaster, has gained national attention for how it has brought refugees and communities together to find mutual understanding and build strong relationships despite differences. That, to me, is the best of America.”

“During past conflicts, America has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees who were fleeing violence and persecution. [For example,] Jewish refugees came to Pennsylvania from Germany and other European countries to escape the Nazi occupation and religious persecution. . . . As millions of people in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Africa face violence, persecution, and death, we should continue to help those we can while taking care to protect our commonwealth and our country, just as we have done for hundreds of years. To reject refugees outright emboldens the message of those who seek to inspire hatred by saying that we, as Americans, do not have compassion or care for specific groups of people in the world facing persecution or worse.”

Tennessee. “Resettlement will be facilitated by the Trump Administration and non-profit organizations with extensive experience in this area. The refugee population in Tennessee is small, and . . .our consent to cooperate and consult with the Trump Administration to provide a safe harbor for those who are fleeing religious persecution and violent conflict is the right decision. The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, and particularly those suffering religious persecution.”

Utah. “Utah has “historically accepted and resettled more than 1,000 refugees each year from a variety of troubled regions of the world. . . . Utah’s unique history informs our approach to refugees. Our state was founded by religious refugees fleeing persecution in the Eastern United States. Those experiences and hardships of our pioneer ancestors 170 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many Utahans. As a result we empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life. And it turns out we do it quite well. Those refugees who resettle in Utah become integrated and accepted into our communities. They become productive employees and responsible citizens. They become contributors in our schools, churches and other civic institutions, even helping serve more recent refugees and thus generating a beautiful cycle of charity. This marvelous compassion is simply embedded into our state’ s culture.”

Vermont. “Since 1989, Vermont has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees, primarily from Bhutan, Burma, Bosnia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam. Prior to 2017, Vermont was resettling an average of approximately 325 refugees per year. Through this consent process, I hope to increase current resettlement to the level of 325-350 individuals annually. Vermont has never conditioned and will never condition refugee resettlement on a refugee’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”

“Vermont’s refugee communities have made countless contributions to our state. Refugees help ensure a healthy sized and diverse student population. They help employers fill open positions, contributing to the community and local economy, and pay federal, state and local taxes. In recent years, refugees have entered employment in critical economic sectors including construction, health care, hospitality and hotels, manufacturing, customer service, education, environmental services, food service, maintenance, meat processing, office/accounting, packing, retail, transportation, and warehouse. Vermont has more open jobs than people to fill them; refugee communities are vital to Vermont’s economic health.”

“I am also heartened by the fact that an average of 90-94% of these new Americans are economically self-sufficient within eight months of arrival in Vermont. In fact, the rate for fiscal year 2029 is 100%.”

Virginia. “Virginia has welcomed refugees who are fleeing war, persecution, or other dire circumstances. We know that no one chooses to abandon their home until conditions become so difficult that the unknown is preferable.”

“The United States has long presented itself as a haven, a place of stability and economic prosperity. We promote the ideals upon which this country was founded, of liberty and freedom. But lo uphold those ideals abroad, we must allow access to them here at home. We must practice what we preach.”

“Virginia helps refugees settle into new homes only in those localities that participate in the Virginia Community Capacity Initiative, which ensures that a community’ s elected officials, faith leaders, schools, and other stakeholders are committed to helping refugees build new homes and lives. We work with resettlement agencies that have deep ties to these communities. We have always been clear that successful resettlement only happens with community involvement.”

“Because of our proximity to Washington, D.C., we are a preferred location for many Special Immigrant Visa holders: Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees who provided services to the U.S. military in those countries, and whose lives and families are in danger because of that service.”

“In recent years, as the federal government has lowered the number of refugees accepted into the United States, Virginia’s refugee number has dropped. We have the capacity to accept and help more refugees than we currently have.”

“These are people who no longer have a home. History shows us that this could happen to any of us. We must all imagine ourselves in their shoes, and treat them as we would wish to be treated. If I were ever in such a position, I hope a friendly country would take me in and let me rebuild my life in peace and safety. I believe people of decency would share that hope. Virginia’s lights are on and our doors are open, and we welcome new Virginians to make their homes here.”

Washington. “[The] State of Washington wholeheartedly consents to welcoming and resettling refugees into our communities—a long and proud tradition that we intend to continue.”

“As the state that resettled the second highest number of refugees last year, we are honored to remain a place of safety and security for those fleeing persecution and violence. Since 1975, Washington has bought in nearly 150,000 refugees from 70 different countries, including Vietnam, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Refugees contribute to all sectors of our economy—as teachers, service members, doctors, and more—while adding to our rich cultural landscape. They are an integral part of Washington’s past, present, and future.”

“Just last week, we celebrated the success of Dr. Anisa Ibrahim, a Washingtonian who resettled in our state after fleeing war-torn Somalia more than two decades ago. Only six years old when her family first arrived in the United States, Dr. Ibrahim later graduated from the University of Washington Medical School and now leads a pediatric clinic in Seattle—the same clinic that treated her when she and her siblings were children.”

“Her story is not unique. Throughout our state, children and families speak of similar circumstances, of having sacrificed everything to seek refuge in America from violence, starvation, and other horrors most of us will thankfully never experience. Many of these children are now leaders in our communities, bringing with them their unique perspectives on tragedy, perseverance, and triumph. Washington State is stronger and our communities are richer because of their important contributions.”

“Given all of the benefits of a robust resettlement program, we should not cast aside our founding principles as a nation. Enshrined in the Statue of Liberty, the ‘Mother of Exiles,’ is our country’s commitment as a safe place for humanity’s most vulnerable. Lest we forget that, of the 26,000,000 refugees worldwide, more than half are children.”

West Virginia.  “West Virginia has had great success with our refugee resettlement agency, which has been in operation since 1978. Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.”

Wisconsin. “Our state has a rich history of opening its doors to people of all backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life. Through the years, while the people seeking resettlement opportunity in Wisconsin have changed, their circumstances have not: they are people seeking a new life, they embrace American ideals, and they bring with them valuable skills and experience which benefit all of us.” He also said, “Following the end of World War II, Wisconsin welcomed its first refugees as defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Our state has since continued to offer opportunities for safety and a new life to those from around the world who are granted resettlement. Over the past two decades, Wisconsin has welcomed more than 16,000 refugees from countries around the world, including Laos, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Iraq. Most recently, our state has welcomed people from Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“Refugees and immigrants are essential to Wisconsin’s economy, from manufacturing to education, and public service to agriculture and healthcare. At a time when we are seeing labor shortages across our state, it is irresponsible for the administration to place obstacles in the path of talented and hard-working folks seeking refuge and a better life.” Moreover, “our refugees are a critically important part of our families, our communities, and our culture—they are part of the fabric of our state. Wisconsin’s refugee population is resilient and determined—they want to help themselves and their family, they want to continue working toward their dreams of living safely and freely, and they are eager to give back to the communities who welcome them. These contributions and our diversity and our differences make us and our state stronger, not weaker.”

Conclusion

It also is noteworthy that at last 19 of the 42 consents came from Republican governors and at least 22 from Democratic governors. Seven other states have not been heard from on the consent issue and thereby impliedly did not consent before a federal court enjoined this program: six with Republican governors (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming) and one with a Democratic governor (Hawaii). The only state that explicitly did not consent was Texas with a Republican governor.

More importantly these statements and the lives they depict are incarnations of Pope Francis’ advice to us all: Welcome. Protect. Promote. Integrate refugees and immigrants![2]

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[1] Almost all of these celebratory comments were quoted in previous posts to this blog: Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Update on U.S.’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 16, 2019); Tennessee Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019); Another Update on States’ Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 30, 2019); U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (Dec. 31, 2019) Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020); Alaska Says “Yes” to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 8, 2020). See also Letter, Utah Gov. Herbert to Pres. Trump (Oct. 14, 2018); Letter, New Mexico Governor Grisham to Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain (Oct. 7, 2019); Letter, Vermont Governor Phil Scott to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo (Jan. 6, 2020). These opinions about the importance of refugees are consistent with the opinion of a Wall Street Journal columnist. (Immigrants Come to America to work, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 31, 2020).

[2]  Pope Francis Reminds Us To Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).

 

U.S.  Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S.

On November 1, President Trump set 18,000 as the quota for refugee admissions into the U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).[1] These admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with the following allocations:

Number Category
5,000 Refugees who:have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion
4,000 Iraqi refugees
1,500 Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras:
7,500 Other refugees
18,000 TOTAL

The President also specified that for Fiscal Year 2020, the following persons may, if otherwise qualified, be considered refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States within their countries of nationality or habitual residence: (a.) persons in Cuba; (b.) persons in Eurasia and the Baltics; (c ) persons in Iraq; (d)  persons in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and (e) in exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a United States Embassy in any location.

Moreover, President Trump added another potential barrier to refugee entrants with an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consent to refugee resettlements.

Reactions [2]

This quota is the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. In Fiscal 2017, the last full year of the Obama Administration, the quota was 85,000 while the Trump Administration’s first two years (Fiscal 2018 and 2019) set the quotas at 53,000 and 30,000.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, “At a time of record forced displacement in the world, lower admissions constrain UNHCR’s ability to deliver on its refugee protection mandate and diminish our humanitarian negotiating power at the global level. As the agency mandated by the UN General Assembly to lead and coordinate the international response to refugees, UNHCR is naturally troubled by this trend in the United States and elsewhere.”

Similar negative reactions came from international non-governmental organizations concerned with refugees.

The International Rescue Committee said the U.S. decision broke with 40 years or precedent. “This measure completely ignores the welcome that communities have provided to refugees, as well as the important contributions resettled refugees have made to these communities all across the country,” Jennifer Sime, its senior vice president, said.

Church World Service, a resettlement agency, said through Its president, Rev. John L. Mccullough,  “With one final blow, the Trump administration has snuffed out Lady Liberty’s torch and ended our nation’s legacy of compassion and welcome.”

Betsy Fisher, the director of strategy for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said,“The shockingly low refugee admissions goal and the executive order will all but ensure that people in need of safety will be left in dangerous conditions and separated from their families. These policies will prevent refugees from being resettled, even though communities across the nation stand ready to welcome them.”

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[1] White House, Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2020 (Nov. 1, 2019); State Dep’t, Presidential  Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 2, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump Approves Plan to Cap Refugees at 18,000 in 2020, N.Y. Times (Nov. 2, 2019); Shear & Kanno-Youngs, Trump Slashes Refugee Cap to 18,000, Curtailing U.S. Role as Haven, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019).

[2] UNHCR, UNHCR troubled by latest U.S. refugee resettlement cut, UNHCR (Nov. 2, 2019); Reuters, UN ‘troubled’ by Donald Trump’s cut to refugee numbers, Newshub (Nov. 3, 2019).

 

                                                                                                                                 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Reactions to Trump Reversals of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies                                                                   

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Now we look at U.S. reactions to this change of policy. Subsequent posts will examine Cuban reactions and conclude with this blogger’s opinions on the subject.

 Overall Assessment of Changes[1]

As many sources have pointed out, the announced changes do not affect most of the important elements of Obama’s normalization policies. The U.S. will continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and operate the U.S. Embassy in Havana (while Cuba continues to operate its Embassy in Washington). U.S. airlines and cruise ships will continue service to the island. Cuban-Americans can still send money (remittances) to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government (with restrictions against credit for sales). There was no change to next year’s budget for the State Department that eliminated the undercover or covert “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. will continue to reject the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil “with dry feet,” but was terminated late last year by President Obama; Trump’s speech endorsed this termination as designed to protect Cubans who were exposed to dangerous journeys by land to the U.S. Various bilateral arrangements facilitating cooperation on multiple issues were not mentioned and, therefore, are not directly affected by this announcement. Nor did the announcement say that the U.S. would reinstate its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The prohibition of U.S. businesses having interactions with Cuban businesses owned or controlled by the Cuban government or military presents more of a problem because such entities are involved in all sectors of the economy. According to Cuban economists, the government conglomerate (GAESA) boasts dozens of companies that control anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of the Caribbean island’s foreign exchange earnings.

U.S. Businesses Reactions[2]

Many U.S. businesses opposed the changes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, typically supportive of GOP presidents, predicted the changes would limit prospects for “positive change on the island.” Others with similar views include ENGAGECuba, the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Farmers Union and the National Foreign Trade Council.

These business opponents were supported by non-business groups, including the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office of Latin America, Church World Service and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The changes will have negative impacts on U.S. jobs and income. The increase in U.S. trips to Cuba has helped the U.S. hospitality industry with Delta Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue and others flying to at least six Cuban cities daily and Carnival cruise lines taking American citizens to port in Havana. All told, the group Engage Cuba estimates that restricting the rights of United States citizens to travel and invest in Cuba would cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect 12,295 American jobs.

U.S. hotel businesses also expressed concern about the potential impact of the change on the island’s hotels.  The Gran Hotel Manzana, for example is managed by a Swiss company (Kempinski Hotels) but owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military-run company. An U.S. company, Marriott International, through its subsidiary Starwood runs the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in the Havana suburb of Miramar. Would they be off-limits for American travelers or would they fall under a vaguely promised grandfather clause for existing deals? Or would the change force American travelers to Cuban hotels run by civilian tour organizations, including Gran Caribe and Cubanacan? There is even speculation that the change economically benefited Mr. Trump by neutralizing rival hotel companies’ ability to gain an early advantage over the Trump hotels, which previously had expressed interest in developing hotels on the island.

Congressional Reactions[3]

Many members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, have expressed opposition to the changes.

Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), who’s been one of Trump’s most enthusiastic backers on Capitol Hill while also being the author of a bill to end the embargo (H.R.442—Cuba Trade Act of 2017), said Trump’s new Cuba policy “will hurt the United States economically, making it harder for our nation’s farmers to access new markets and cutting the knees out from under our travel and manufacturing industries.” Emmer also said the new policy will not keep the American homeland safe and could threaten new bilateral agreements with Havana to combat human trafficking, illicit drugs and cyber crimes.

Representative Rick Crawford, (Rep., AR), the author of a bill to promote U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba (H.R.525—Cuba Agricultural Exports Act), said Trump’s shift is more than just a missed opportunity for rural America, which would benefit from greater access to Cuba’s agricultural import market. He said Trump’s policy may put U.S. national security at risk as strategic competitors move to fill the vacuum the uncoupling could create. “Further U.S. disengagement opens up opportunities for countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China to gain influence on an island 90 miles off our coast,” Crawford said.

Senator Jeff Flake, (Rep., AZ), a frequent critic of Trump and the author with 54 cosponsors of a bill to facilitate Americans travel to Cuba (S.127 Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act), stated that any policy change “that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people.” Therefore, Flake called for the Senate’s GOP leadership to allow a vote on this bill. Flake also warned that returning to a “get tough” policy hurts everyday Cubans whose livelihoods are increasingly rooted in travel and tourism.

Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), the author of a bill to end the embargo (S.472—Cuba Trade Act of 2017), said that “putting America first means exporting what we produce to countries across the globe.” He said he remains focused on finding ways to “increase trade with Cuba rather than cut off relationships that have the potential to create new jobs, bring in revenue and boost our national economy.”

Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR) said Trump’s policy moves the U.S. backward.” It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and working relationship with a government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting them out,” Boozman said under the latter approach, “we not only trade goods, but ideas.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), the author of a bill to end the embargo (S.1286– Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2017), said the new policy was “a setback in U.S. – Cuba relations at a time when 73 percent of Americans want more engagement with Cuba, not less. These changes will disadvantage our businesses and undermine American tourism, which will also hurt the Cuban people. Earlier today I joined Minnesota officials and business leaders who are traveling to Cuba next week to send the message that America wants to continue doing business in Cuba. We need to build on the bipartisan momentum we have created by restoring relations with Cuba, not make it harder for Americans to travel and do business there.”

The five-day Minnesota trip referenced by Senator Klobuchar is being led by its Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, accompanied by various state government officials and leaders of agricultural groups. Their objectives are to build relationships with Cuba and promote Minnesota agricultural exports to the island.

In Cuba Lt. Gov. Smith said, “There is no denying the actions Trump took . . . [on June 16] are a real setback. But the important thing to me is that there is bipartisan support at the federal level for normalizing and modernizing our relationship.” In the meantime, she said she was glad to carry the message that there was still plenty of support for continuing to normalize relations. Minnesota’s government and businesses will continue to engage with Cuba in the areas they can, like agricultural trade. Cuba invited the Minnesota delegation to a trade show later in the year while Minnesota invited Cuban officials to visit.

Other Americans’ Reactions[4]

Many other Americans have expressed their opposition to the changes.

One is Rena Kraut, a substitute member of the Minnesota Orchestra, which visited Cuba in 2015.[5] She talked about the importance of encouraging Americans to visit Cuba and the “ability [of artists] to move the conversation to places corporations and politicians cannot or will not go, and to smooth the way for political change years before the document signings and handshakes.” Inspired by the Orchestra’s trip, she has founded Cayo, a non-profit that is organizing a youth orchestra for American and Cuban young people “to broaden horizons, provide youth with the highest level of artistic training, and shed light on that which can bring our neighboring countries together.”

Published letters to the Editor of the New York Times were generally critical of the change. Luis Suarez-Villa, professor emeritus at the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, said, “American policy toward Cuba has been hijacked by a clique of Cuban-American politicians who have sold their support in Congress to President Trump.” Suarez-Villa also berated the “punishing, 55-year-old embargo perpetrated by the world’s most powerful nation — accompanied by innumerable acts of economic sabotage, espionage, attempted assassination and military aggression.” Stephen Gillespie of San Francisco, California wrote, “Mr. Trump seems to hate oppressive regimes that convert private property into public goods for the benefit of the people, but he loves oppressive regimes that convert public goods into private property for the benefit of a few rich friends.”

Miriam Pensack, an editorial assistant at The Intercept and a former researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Science and Society, wrote, “Carried out under the unlikely banner, for Trump, of human rights and democracy, the shift is instead more likely to re-impose hardships on ordinary Cubans — the very same people Trump, Rubio, and Diaz-Balart claim to champion.”

William LeoGrande, who teaches government at American University and co-authored the book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, observed, “When Americans go down there, a lot of them stay in private homes, they eat in private restaurants, they take private taxis, and they pay private tour guides that guide them around the city. That’s money directly into the hands of ordinary Cubans.” He added, ““It’s hard to believe that human rights are really anything more than just an excuse. This is really more a matter of political horse trading than it is a matter of foreign policy.”

A contrary view in the New York Times’ collection of letters came from Medford, New York’s Eugene Dunn, who stated, “Kudos to President Trump for demanding that Cuba finally turn over a parade of criminals who have sought sanctuary on the Communist island for decades. Finally we have a titanium-spined president who isn’t afraid to use America’s military and economic might as leverage over these tin-pot dictators who under previous administrations made us the laughingstock of the world.”

The Cuban-Americans at the president’s event in Little Havana are enthusiastic supporters of the new policy as are many other Republican voters in the U.S.

Editorialists’ Reactions[6]

 The New York Times’ editorial condemned the Trump Administration’s approach. The Times said it was “the latest chapter in a spiteful political crusade to overturn crucial elements of his predecessor’s legacy” and was likely to cause “Cuban-American relations . . . to revert to a more adversarial Cold War footing, undermining Washington’s standing in Latin America.” Moreover, Trump’s stated concern for Cuban human rights was especially galling from a “president [who] has been so disdainful of these rights . . . [and who has] embraced so lovingly authoritarians who abuse their people, like Vladimir Putin of Russia and the Saudi royal family.”

The editorial from the Los Angeles Times was similar. It stated that the new policy was “based on a disingenuous argument. The putative reason for the change is that Cuba still violates the human rights of its own people, including jailing dissidents and independent journalists. But hasn’t the Trump administration been moving the U.S. away from its focus on human rights around the world?” Instead, said the Los Angeles newspaper, “What’s really happening is that Trump has let the anti-Castro sect in Congress take the wheel on this issue, no doubt for cynical political reasons. Remember that Trump broke with his Republican rivals during the campaign and supported Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. Then he flipped and disparaged the policy as a bad deal, and pledged to undo it unless Cuba met fresh demands on human rights, including the ‘freeing of political prisoners.’”

An editorial from the Washington Post, however, gave the change a weak endorsement. It said, it was “little more than a policy tweak” and “a little more impatience about democracy [in Cuba with the Trump policy] isn’t such a bad thing.”

Although the Wall Street Journal has not offered an editorial on this change, its columnist on Latin American issues and a critic of normalization, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, welcomed Trump’s changes to U.S. policy regarding Cuba even though it was only “an important symbolic change . . . [whose] effects are likely to be minimal.” Instead she argues that Cuba needs a “high-profile truth project” to take “ an honest look at the historical record that acknowledges the regime’s many crimes against humanity.” She refers to the Cuba Archive Truth and Memory Project that has documented 934 executions mostly in the Escambray” Mountains, circa 1959-1964, in addition to 607 executions of political prisoners, most of whom are believed to have been captured in the Escambray. This Project is the work of the Free Society Project, Inc., a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization with a board of Cuban-Americans.

Minnesota’s leading newspaper, the StarTribune, opined that Trump was “unraveling years of work to build ties with a strategically placed neighbor. Instead, he’s choosing a misguided return to strict embargos on travel and trade that failed to achieve U.S. aims for more than half a century.” The editorial endorsed the efforts to promote Cuba normalization by Minnesota’s U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar (Dem.) and Representative Tom Emmer (Rep.) while commenting that Cuba “holds a strategic allure” for other nations “that could threaten American security.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, AP FACT CHECK: Not Much New in Trump’s Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Rolls Back Some, Not All, Changes in US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017).

[2] Burnett, Travel Industry Scrambles After New Cuba Restrictions, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Reuters, Cuban Military’s Tentacles Reach Deep Into Economy, N.Y. Times (June 15, 2017); Harwell & O’Connell, With shift on Cuba, Trump could undercut his company’s hotel-industry rivals, Wash. Post (June 15, 2017); Sabatini, Trump’s Imminent Cuba Problem, N.Y. Times (June 15, 2017).

 

[3] Assoc. Press, Republicans Divided as Trump Reverses Some Obama Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017); Press Release: Emmer: President’s Misguided Cuba Directive Undercuts Human Rights & Threatens National Security (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Crawford Opposes Cuba Policy Shift (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Flake Statement on Renewed Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Sen. Moran Statement on Administration’s Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Boozman, Statement on President Trump’s Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Klobuchar Statement on Changes to Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Golden, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to lead Minnesota trade trip to Cuba, StarTribune (June 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, Minnesota lieutenant governor visits Cuba, StarTribune (June 20, 2017); Reuters, Minnesota Will Still Engage With Cuba Despite Trump Setback, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2017)

[4] Kraut, Trump Is Wrong to Pull Back from Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Letters to Editor, Trump’s reversal of U.S. Policy on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2017); Pensack, Trump To Reverse Obama Openings to Cuba Under the False Flag of Human Rights, The Intercept (June 16, 2017).

[5] Previous posts about the Minnesota Orchestra’s trip to Cuba are listed in the “Cuba & Minnesota” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Editorial, A Cynical Reversal on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Editorial, Trump just reopened the Cold War with Cuba. His excuse is disingenuous, L.A. Times (June 16, 2017); Editorial, Don’t get too worked up over Trump’s Cuba shift, It’s just a policy tweak, Wash. Post (June 17, 2017); Editorial, Trump’s Cuba retreat hurts U.S. and Minnesota, StarTribune (June 19, 2017); O’Grady, Cubans Need a Truth Commission, W.S.J. (June 18, 2017).

U.S. Policy Implications of State Department’s Report on Cuban Human Rights

A prior post reviewed the U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices while another post discussed its chapter on Cuba. Now we look at the implications of that report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.

Some people assert that the negative aspects of Cuban human rights justify continuing U.S. hostility toward the island. They see the Cuban glass of human rights at least half empty. Notable among them is U.S. Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Cuban-American and a Republican Congressman from Miami, who remains a stalwart powerful defender of the embargo and other anti-Cuba policies of the U.S.

Others, including this blogger, reach the opposite conclusion based, in part, on the belief that the Cuban glass of human rights is half full.

Rev. Raul Suarez
Rev. Raul Suarez

As Rev. Raúl Suárez put it at the February 27th briefing for the U.S. Congress, “Cuba has many problems but Cuba isn’t hell . . . . We have many good things that have been achieved [but] . . . Cuba is not the Kingdom of God.” Suárez added, “God . . . wants us [Cubans and Americans] to live like brothers and sisters.”[1]

Indeed, the humility expressed by Rev. Suárez should lead the U.S. to the same conclusion. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last month on release of the Human Rights Reports, “from our own nation’s journey, we know that [human rights] is a work in progress. Slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out. And we know that the struggle for equal rights, for women, for others – for LGBT community and others – is an ongoing struggle.” Secretary Kerry admitted that we  “know that we’re not perfect. We don’t speak with any arrogance whatsoever, but with a concern for the human condition.”

In evaluating Cuba’s mixed human rights record and deciding on U.S. policies regarding that country, that same humility should cause we in the U.S. to remember the U.S. immense superiority in economies and military might and the long-standing U.S. actions of hostility towards Cuba, including the following:

  • the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century (what we in the U.S. call the “Spanish-American War“);
  • the U.S.’ making Cuba a de facto U.S. protectorate in the early 20th Century;
  • the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961;
  • the U.S. threats of military action against Cuba during the pressured Cuban missile crisis of 1962;
  • the CIA’s hatching several plots to assassinate Fidel Castro when he was Cuba’s President;
  • the U.S. conduct of an embargo of Cuba over the last 50-plus years; and
  •  the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba setting forth what amounted to a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba.

This history provides Cuba with many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S. It, therefore, is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents” and what Cuba fears are or could be supporters of a U.S. takeover.

And we in the U.S. should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island.

Therefore, as a prior post argued, improving Cuban human rights should be one of many items on an agenda for a comprehensive, mutually respectful negotiation between the two countries. The objectives of such a negotiation, in my opinion, should be restoration of full diplomatic relations; ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba;[2] terminating the unjustified U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism;” [3] terminating the one-sided U.S. lease of Guantanamo Bay; and compensating owners for expropriation of property on the island as part of the Cuban Revolution.[4]

Such a negotiation, in my opinion, is in the interest of the U.S. Cuba poses no threat to the U.S. Our businesses and farmers would benefit economically from open relations with Cuba. Normalizing our relations with the island would be seen by most people in the world, especially Latin America, as a sign that the U.S. is a mature, rational country.

These thoughts were echoed by the Cuban religious leaders who held a U.S. congressional briefing on February 27th. Joined by the President and CEO of Church World Service, [5] they reaffirmed their long-held opposition to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

They also called “for the U.S. government to end the ban that prevents U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba and seeing the island for themselves; to take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism . . . ; and for the American government to open up trade and commerce in ways that support the small enterprises, cooperatives, and non-profits that are emerging on the island. Finally, the U.S. and Cuban governments ought to open a high level dialogue between our countries to normalize relations and discuss differences in ways that honor and respect the dignity of both nations.”

Before the commencement of such complicated negotiations, the U.S. President should commute the sentences of three of the Cuban Five to the 15-plus years they already have spent in U.S. jails and prisons and let them return to their home country. Similarly Cuba should commute the sentence of U.S. citizen Alan Gross to the time he already has spent in Cuban prison and allow him to return to the U.S.

Given the long period of hostility between the two countries and the apparent lack of movement toward negotiations, I believe that the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator would be helpful to both countries. Such a mediator, in my opinion, should be someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish with experience as an international mediator, who is in fact and perceived to be neutral and who has the time (and staff?) to make a major commitment to this process.

Such a mediator indeed could and should step forward and invite representatives of both countries to participate in mediated negotiations, rather than wait on them to agree on such a process.

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[1] Suárez is a Baptist pastor and the founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana. When I visited the Center in 2007, Rev. Suárez told our group that he had founded the Center because he thought King’s philosophy of non-violence and social justice was relevant to Cuba, especially to Afro-Cubans. He also said that in 1984 he and other religious leaders met with then President Fidel Castro to protest the government’s endorsement of atheism (or scientific materialism) as limiting the space for churches, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba abandoned that endorsement and provided more space for churches to participate in issues facing the island.

[2] Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also call for ending the U.S. embargo. So too does world opinion as evidenced by the U.N. General Assembly’s passing resolutions condemning the embargo for the last 22 years. The last such resolution in October 2013 was passed 188 to 2 with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it.  A prior post to this blog also has argued for ending the embargo and summarized the 2011 General Assembly resolution against the embargo.

[3] This blog has reviewed the State Department’s asserted rationale for the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation and called it ridiculous for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and absurd for 2013. This blog also noted Cuba’s adoption of legislation against money laundering and terrorism financing and thereby negating one of the purported reasons for the designation.

[4] In a letter to President Obama that was reproduced in this blog, I called for the U.S. to terminate the Guantanamo Bay lease and for Cuba to compensate property owners for expropriating their property. A comprehensive review of this lease is found in Michael J. Strauss’ The Leasing of Guantanamo Bay.

[5] Church World Service was founded in 1946 with this mission: “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, shelter the homeless.” It now has 37 Protestant member communions all over the world.

Other Details about Congressional Briefing by Cuban Religious Leaders

As noted in the prior post, on February 27th six Cuban Protestant Christian leaders briefed the U.S. Congress on the status of Cuban religious freedom.

Additional details about that briefing have been provided by one of these six leaders, Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, who is a Presbyterian minister and President of the Cuban Council of Churches.

In an article co-authored by Rev. John L. McCullough, who is a United Methodist minister in the U.S. and the President and CEO of Church World Service, they reported in the briefing “there is a thriving, growing faith community in Cuba.” In fact, there is “a wide range of churches active in the country, and religious membership and participation has been growing for twenty years. The Cuban Council of Churches has 54 member organizations. Church World Service and many of its 37 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member communities work closely with churches in Cuba and with the ecumenical Cuban Council of Churches.”

These churches, their Council and their international religious colleagues work together in “providing humanitarian aid in times of disasters and . . . accompanying and supporting the Cuban churches as they have gained more space to minister and offer social services over the past twenty years.”

They also noted that “[r]eal change is going on in Cuba today, including within the Cuban economy, that will reduce the size of the state workforce and expand private enterprise and cooperatives. Efforts are being made to preserve the gains in health care and education that Cubans are proud of. Change presents both challenges and opportunities for the Cuban people and the churches, but together we [in the Cuban churches] are committed to helping this process advance.”

“As church leaders and citizens of our respective countries, we have learned to work well together, and we have learned from each other in the process. We urge our governments to do the same.”

 

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

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The U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ chapter on Cuba needs analysis.[1]

The Report’s Negative Comments about Cuban Human Rights

The Executive Summary of its chapter on Cuba has a strongly negative tone. It states the following:

  • “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and ‘the superior leading force of society and of the state.’ A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.
  • In January the government largely dropped travel restrictions that prevented citizens from leaving the island, but these reforms were not universally applied, and authorities denied passport requests for certain opposition figures or harassed them upon their return to the country.
  • The principal human rights abuses were abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
  • The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. [2] Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.
  • Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

The Report’s Positive Comments about Cuban Human Rights

This Executive Summary paints a bleak picture of Cuban human rights, and I have no doubt that many of these points are legitimate. But I still believe that it overstates the negatives.

Indeed, the Executive Summary failed to acknowledge that the Report itself stated there were “no reports that the [Cuban] government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings . . . [or] politically motivated disappearances.”

In addition, the Report itself stated in Cuba that there was “no societal pattern of child abuse;” that the government operated family counseling centers; that the government “continued to carry out media campaigns” against domestic violence; that the government “actively promoted racial integration and inclusiveness;” that a government resolution “accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work;” and that there was no “discrimination officially reported or permitted based on sexual orientation” accentuated by President Castro’s daughter’s promotion of LGBT rights.

With respect to Cuba’s prisoners and pretrial detainees, the Report conceded that they “had access to visitors;” that many “were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and reports to family members;” that they “could practice limited religious observance;” and that “the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces.”

On Cuban religious freedom more generally, the Report merely incorporated by reference the section on Cuba in the Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report that this blog previously criticized as understating the extent of religious freedom on the island.[3]

Moreover, the new overall Human Rights Report admits that “religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings than in the past;” that “[r]eligious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals;” that the “Catholic Church operated a cultural center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants voicing different opinions about the country’s future, at which well-known dissidents were allowed to participate;” and that the “Catholic Church published two periodicals that sometimes included criticism of official social and economic policies . . . [and] a pastoral letter advocating for political and economic reforms and greater rights for citizens.”

The new overall Report also says that the “Catholic Church received permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run television stations . . . [while] the Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly 20-minute radio broadcast;” that religious “groups reported the ability to gather in large numbers without registering or facing sanctions;” and that “[r]ecognized churches, [and] the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas . . . were . . . legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the [Communist Party], and government-organized organizations.” In addition, there were “no reports of anti-Semitic acts.”

Finally the Report concedes that the Cuban constitution and other laws prohibit abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners and provide alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and juveniles as well as rights to seek redress for improper prison conditions and treatment. Cuban law, the Report said, also specifies reasonable procedures for investigations and prosecutions of alleged crimes.

Conclusion

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island. A subsequent post will examine what this blogger sees as the implications of this report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.


[1] A prior post reviewed the Department’s overall summary of global human rights in 2013.

[2] The most recent annual report (May 2013) from Amnesty International makes similar allegations about Cuba as did Human Rights Watch’s April 2013 submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding its Universal Periodic Review of Cuba.

[3] This blog criticized the prior reports on Cuban religious freedom by the State Department and by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In addition, another post reviewed positive comments on religious freedom from religious leaders with direct experience on the island. Similar points were made on February 27th, 2014, by six Cuban Protestant Christian leaders at a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona) and Representative Jim McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts). In response, a strong supporter of current U.S. policies regarding Cuba launched an unwarranted ad hominem attack on these leaders.