Reporting on Refugees

Posted on February 3, 2017. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , |

From the “alternative facts” file, which is decidedly bipartisan: Consider the so-called “Muslim ban,” in reference to President Donald Trump’s refugee executive order. Democratic lawmakers are wailing, lawsuits are flying, and hyped-up headlines like “Trump slams door on refugees” are saturating cyberspace.

The normal expectation of any Muslim ban is that (1) it would be targeted at all Muslims, and (2) it would sharply decrease the number of refugees allowed into the United States.

Conveniently, the U.S. State Department tracks refugee admissions statistics on a page of its website. The average person has probably never visited that page. Sadly, but apparently, neither has the average journalist. And certainly few Democrats of rank.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the gnashing of teeth over Trump’s proposed cap of 50,000 refugees annually. Is that a lot or a little? Without context it’s hard to say, except that all the shrieking makes it sound like some cruel, cold-blooded closing of American hearts and borders.

For context: The annual average of refugee admissions into the United States over the 2000-2015 period is 54,600. Trump’s figure is hardly a slammed door; more like an ever-so-slight reduction.

The State Department also conveniently tracks refugees by country. Recall those heart-wrenching pictures of Syrian children victimized by the civil war, which began in 2011. Ever wonder how many of those pitiful, imperiled, suffering Syrian refugees the Obama administration allowed that fiscal year?

A gratuitous 29.

The next year? Up to 31. As the war heated up in 2013 and 2014? Totals of 36 and 105, respectively. From a war-torn country of 17 million.

That’s really not as bad as it sounds, because while civil wars create lots of violence, death and destruction, they don’t necessarily create “refugees” as defined by federal law. A refugee is someone outside his or her country who is persecuted on account of “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Mere displacement by civil war doesn’t qualify.

In order to receive asylum in the U.S., a so-defined refugee must satisfy a burden of proof and credibility determination as set forth by federal law that establishes demonstrable harm in one of those five categories as “at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.”

Muslims maiming, raping, torturing and killing other Muslims over territorial and/or governmental control isn’t persecution; it’s just war, otherwise known as hell.

The Christians in Syria, however, are clearly being persecuted by Islamic State forces in occupying territories. And though Christians constituted approximately 10 percent of Syria’s population in 2015, more than 99 percent of Syrian refugees admitted last year under Barack Obama were Muslims.

It wasn’t until his last lame-duck year that Obama radically and drastically altered normal American policy, raising the ceiling to allow 13,000 refugees from Syria. Previously, Obama wasn’t vilified for keeping the door slammed on Syrian refugees, even though for the first six years of his presidency the head count for war-ravaged Syrians admitted into the U.S. averaged fewer than 46 annually.

And Trump’s executive order imposes only a temporary ban on refugees anyway—with provisions for case-by-case exceptions for individuals affected by pre-existing international agreements or already in transit.

For alternative reality kicks, let’s compare the Obama administration refugee admissions for 2015 against Amnesty International’s top 10 worst countries for violating human rights on a national scale.

No. 1 was China (no surprise) where freedom of religion is “systematically stifled” and new laws pose “grave dangers” to human rights, according to the report.

Chinese refugees in 2015: 30.

How about No. 2 Egypt, where “grossly unfair trials,” executions and torture run rampant?

Egyptian refugees in 2015: 13.

Or No. 3 Gambia, where the LGBT population is criminalized, tortured and subject to “enforced disappearance?”

Gambian refugees in 2015: 3.

For No. 4 Hungary, overrun with hate crimes, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2015: zero.

Excluding No. 10 Syria, refugees welcomed to U.S. shores in 2015 from the worst nine nation-offenders of human rights added up to a whopping 519–out of a total refugee admission pool of 69,933.

Now is not the time for Democrats to whine about tears on the Statue of Liberty’s cheeks.

In anything other than an alternative, blindly partisan analysis, Trump could be—at worst—rightly accused of reverting to early Obama administration handful numbers on Syrian refugees, and capping total refugee admissions at 91 percent of the 16-year U.S. average. There is no wholesale “ban,” and nearly nine out of every 10 Muslims in the world remains unaffected by his executive order.

In the end, the ugly truth for politicians in both parties is that their establishments have dodged, postured, caved and passed on the overall immigration debacle for decades.

Like him or hate him, there’s a president now who, true to his campaign pledges, is going to push forward on the issue.

Change isn’t always progress, but in a low-denominator stalemate during which U.S. immigration law has been flouted and law-abiding immigrants deprived of due privilege, and radical Islamic terrorism poses a worldwide threat, it’s preferable to the status quo.

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