World Refugee Day and the Crisis at Our Southern Border
On the eve of World Refugee Day, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin spoke on the Senate floor about the need to be a beacon of hope for the world's refugees and the cruel policies being enacted on the U.S.-Mexico border
Remarks as delivered:
"Mr. President, tomorrow, June 20, is World Refugee Day. The United Nations General Assembly in 2000 declared June 20 to be World Refugee Day so we can have public awareness and support for refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced people.
"The numbers are now out as to the number of displaced people in the year 2017, and that number is kind of shocking. It is record-setting for recent times--65.6 million people are displaced from their homes today. Over 22 million are refugees, over 40 million are displaced in their own country--internally displaced individuals, and almost 3 million are asylum seekers. These numbers rival the number of displaced people we saw after World War II.
"Fifty-five percent of the refugees come from three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. We have seen recent additions to the number of displaced people. In Burma, the Rohingya Muslims were forced out of their homes, and 650,000 had to flee. In the Central African Republic, we saw, again by reason of conflict, a lot of people being displaced. In our own hemisphere in Venezuela, there are 1.5 million people displaced from that conflict, and of course we all are familiar with the problems in Central America and El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras--countries which have been plagued by violence, from which a lot of families have tried to escape in order to save their children.
"In Syria, there are 12 million displaced people. That is over half the population of Syria as a result of the conflict and the ISIS campaign. Over half the people in that country are displaced. When we talk about the impact it has on other countries when individuals seek to leave and become refugees--in Lebanon, for example, 1 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon. In Jordan, 660,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan. These countries have been prepared to take in these refugees. The impact, of course, is immediate to the individuals who are displaced. There is also an impact on the region, and as far away as we have seen the distances people will go in order to seek safety, there has been a major impact on the Continent of Europe.
"I will be introducing a resolution for the U.S. Senate to go on record recognizing World Refugee Day. It will reaffirm the U.S. Government commitment to uphold international leadership, our strong support for humanitarian assistance, particularly in helping host countries' living conditions. I just saw the press accounts of the Rohingya population living in tent cities during the monsoon season who are at great risk. We need to join the international community that is working to help these vulnerable people.
"The resolution speaks to us partnering with our international communities. This is an international effort, with U.S. leadership. We are reaffirming our longstanding tradition of resettling refugees in the United States.
"I have worked on this issue since I have been in Congress, and it has always been bipartisan. I have had strong partners on both the Democratic and Republican side fighting for America to maintain its leadership against the vulnerable people in the world who have been displaced and the refugee population and the asylum seekers.
"I remember vividly working with Senator McCain on humanitarian aid and holding those who prey on these vulnerable people who are displaced, the perpetrators, accountable for their human rights violations. There have been many other examples of us working together. We should be welcoming the persecuted and vulnerable refugees in the United States, recognizing that America's strength is in our diversity, the people who braved coming to this country who built this great country, the United States of America.
"So I need to comment that President Trump's policies stand in sharp contrast to what America's role must be in regard to promoting the welfare of displaced people as we tomorrow celebrate World Refugee Day. I know the subject that is getting the most debate right now--and rightly so, and I am going to talk about it--is the removal of children from their parents at our border, which, to me, is an abomination. I am going to talk about that, but that is not the only problematic part of President Trump's refugee policies.
"This administration has reduced dramatically the refugee caps for those permitted to resettle in the United States. We believe the number is as high as an 83 percent reduction in America's willingness to accept refugees. Here we are with global leadership asking countries to keep their borders open for those who are at risk to enter their country, and we are closing our borders. That is not what the world leader does in that regard.
"We have seen policies that discriminate against who can come to this country. There is no question the Trump administration tried to impose a Muslim ban, a religious test, as to who could come to this country. We heard the President's comments about certain countries, which raised questions about whether the demographics of that country affect the ability of people being able to come to America. We have seen this administration propose, time and time again, cuts in humanitarian aid to vulnerable, displaced people in order to fund a wall on our southern border.
"Then there are the Dreamers, the DACA registrants. Through Executive order, President Trump created a problem that didn't exist for the Dreamers who were given status to be able to work and go to school under an Executive order by President Obama. President Trump changed that by Executive order. It wasn't Congress. Congress didn't create the problem, the President did.
"Then we have those who are legally here--legally here under temporary status, TPS--from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and other countries. They have been here a long time because the conditions in their country have not changed. It is still not safe for them to go back to their country. They are legally in the United States, and against the recommendations of our own missions in these countries, the Trump administration decided to put an ending date for their legal status in the United States, meaning, even though they have been here for 15 years, they are going to have to leave America. That is done by Executive action by President Trump, not by Congress. We didn't create this problem--whether it is the Dreamers or TPS, the President could change that today with the stroke of a pen.
"Then we have asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are the most persecuted. Their own lives are at risk if they have to go back to their host countries. What did Attorney General Sessions do? He removed victims of domestic abuse and gang violence from those who can seek asylum in the United States. They did that by Executive action, not Congress. We didn't create this problem. The Trump administration created the problem, and they could change it with the stroke of a pen.
"Yes, there are a lot of issues where I believe President Trump's policies are not what America is about, whether it is support for humanitarian aid or whether it is the number of refugees we accept or whether it is dealing with the Dreamers or those in TPS, the asylum seekers.
"All of that, to me, violates the basic principles of America that make us the strong Nation we are.
"The most recent force of separation of parents from their children at our southern border is outrageous, and it is affecting people's lives every day--children's lives every day.
"Let me set this up because, again, this was done by the President. He can correct it with the stroke of a pen. Congress didn't create the problem; the President did this. The President can change this today.
"It is my understanding that as many as 70 children every single day are being separated from their parents at our southern border. This can't wait until tomorrow. Each one of these children will be scarred for the rest of their life because of this cruel and inhumane policy announced by the Trump administration.
"Let me set this up as to how this happened, because there is no law requiring this. The President decided that because you happen to be a parent concerned about your child's life--you live in a country in which you have a choice of your child joining a gang--by the way, if you join a gang, you are going to have to take someone else's life. That is usually the admission to join a gang. And if you refuse to join a gang, not only is your life at risk, but your family's life is at risk. So what would you do as a father or a mother if your child were in that position? You are trying to seek the safety of your child, so you leave and you come to our southern border. Now you are told you are going to lose your child in separation for doing what--trying to protect that child's life? Is that the United States? No, it isn't. But that is the policy President Trump has now established at our southern border.
"It has to end, and it can end today by the President of the United States signing an order saying we are not going to do that. We all want to have rule of law and enforcement of laws at our border. We understand that. But you don't separate children from their parents. That can change, and we need to change it.
"Why are we doing this?
"Attorney General Sessions said we are doing this as a deterrent. We take children away from parents as a deterrent when parents are acting in order to protect their children? That makes absolutely no sense.
"Then I heard: Congress could take action. The President said that. We could take action. Our domestic policies must support our fundamental ideals of compassion and freedom and unwavering support for human rights. I agree with that. Yes, it would be nice for Congress to pass laws. I am all for doing that. We saw that we weren't even able to pass a bill protecting the Dreamers, even though Democrats and Republicans agreed on it, because President Trump wanted to use that for leverage for his wall and for repressive immigration policies.
"Let's not go down another path where we are going to have delay after delay and children being separated from parents every day. It is President Trump's responsibility to correct this today.
"Yes, we should work on legislation. I applaud Senator Feinstein for her legislation that would keep families together with the proper legal process. I congratulate Senator Smith for the HELP Separated Children Act, which gives fundamental principles. A lot of us have talked about various parts of immigration reform and comprehensive immigration reform. I am all for that. I voted for comprehensive immigration reform. But make no mistake about it--children are being taken away from their parents today by U.S. authorities on our southern border, when their parents have done nothing other than try to protect their children. It is happening today, and the way to change it today is for President Trump to say that is not what we are going to do here in America. I stand ready to work with any of my colleagues on reasonable laws that could protect the vulnerable people.
"Tomorrow, as I said, is World Refugee Day, where we have record numbers of people who have been displaced. America has the responsibility to be a leader on these issues and to lead by example, recognizing that diversity is our strength. We have responsibilities to those who have been persecuted to welcome them under our reasonable vetting rules so that we can, in fact, live up to our principles and lead the world.
"I ask my colleagues--on the eve of World Refugee Day--let us work together. I ask President Trump to do the right thing and reverse these repressive, un-American policies that he has put into place."
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