Our Opinion: Fighting cruel limits on refugees to US

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When it comes to the Trump administration's shortsighted and inhumane policy toward refugees seeking to enter this country, nobody wins and many are harmed. Mr. Trump has capped the number of refugees that would be admitted for resettlement during fiscal 2018, which began last October, at 45,000 — the lowest number since the Refugee Act was passed in 1980, according to the Boston Globe. During his first year as president, Mr. Trump sought through executive order to ban all refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries. Two of his executive orders have been challenged in court, and a third is before the Supreme Court. Regardless of what decision the justices reach, considerable damage has already been done.

By unilaterally seeking to ban refugees from majority-Muslim countries regardless of the legitimacy of their need, Mr. Trump, in playing to the prejudices of many of his supporters, has helped perpetuate an atmosphere wherein some Americans hold an entire religious group responsible for the actions of a relatively small number of extremists. While the president would have us think that would-be terrorists are sprinkled among those seeking asylum — the stated reason for his ban — the fact is that all refugees undergo the strictest of background checks before being allowed entry. Such a discriminatory attitude from the leader of our government poisons attitudes among citizens who might otherwise welcome and sponsor them in their local communities.

Notwithstanding Mr. Trump's divisive words and actions, many Americans — mindful of this country's tradition of accepting those seeking asylum from disasters man-made and natural — remain eager to roll out the welcome mat. As if altruistic motives were not enough in themselves, there is ample evidence that refugees enrich the communities they settle in through their industriousness and the diversity they add to local culture. Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts was in the process of settling dozens of refugees, primarily from war-torn Syria and Iraq, in Pittsfield or neighboring towns when the plan was scrapped by the U.S. State Department last September. As JFS president and CEO Maxine Stein indicated at the time, the lower numbers of refugees directly affect funding of resettlement agencies, which is tied to the number of people they serve. This further hampers already-existing efforts at the local level to help the already arrived.

Aside from the disappointment of those who were hoping to leave Iraq, a nation the Bush administration cynically destabilized and left in ruins, the city and Berkshire County lost an opportunity, however small, to stem the outward flow of its population while enriching local quality of life. It is particularly frustrating and ironic that the refugee resettlement program has fallen victim to small thinking on the part of the nation's leadership and a desire to pander to those unwilling to open their hearts due to ignorance or misinformation, when so many others are ready to extend themselves.

Accordingly, U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, while addressing the We Are All America Roundtable in Boston on Monday, announced that he has teamed up with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut in an effort to raise the refugee cap to 75,000 for fiscal 2019. The senators face a heavy lift trying to position the plight of refugees on the top rung of Republican congressional priorities, but the fight is a noble one. Welcoming refugees not only has benefits for the Berkshires and the nation as a whole, it is what we stand for.


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