J Street Condemns Trump’s Destruction of the US Refugee Program

J Street
on July 21, 2020

In a submission to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security this July, J Street voiced our community’s strong opposition to the Trump administration’s continued assault on the US refugee program, including new changes which would inflict particular cruelty on women, children and LGBT+ refugees.

Submission to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security on Procedural Changes to America’s Asylum Assessment Program

RIN 1125-AA94 // EOIR Docket No. 18-0002

As representatives of the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy American Jewish community, our history and our values compel us to oppose the proposed rule changes in the strongest possible terms. It is clear that after years of ideologically-driven cuts and restrictions designed to shrink and sabotage the operation of America’s refugee resettlement program, this latest change will only inject a new layer of unfairness, cruelty and arbitrary discrimination into an already gut-wrenching process.

For more than a century, Jewish Americans have had a proud history of supporting refugee resettlement in line with our Jewish values, our American ideals and our vision for a thriving, free and just United States. In 1881, American Jews founded the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe — it’s an organization which was instrumental in building America’s resettlement program in subsequent decades and which continues its important advocacy and resettlement work today. 

J Street is proud to stand with HIAS and American Jews across the country in condemning these latest proposals. We note with anger the particular cruelty these changes inflict on women, children and LGBT+ individuals, the rights of whom our nation purports to champion abroad. We note with distress that this latest proposal would further undermine procedural fairness, disproportionately impair applications from non-English speakers and reduce the chances of resettlement being granted to those who need it most.

As Jewish Americans, we recall our own painful history with America’s refugee resettlement system. We recall that at the height of the Holocaust, as thousands of Jewish asylum seekers and other persecuted groups sought refuge in the United States, America’s response was to tighten, limit and restrict resettlement in a manner which evokes painful parallels today.

Then, as now, the government fanned the flames of prejudice and advocated restrictions based on spurious claims of fraud and exploitation, raising the specter of enemies infiltrating America through the asylum program. The ‘integrity of the process’ became a fig leaf for discrimination, ‘security’ became a justification for xenophobia. As thousands of documented cases demonstrate, the lasting legacy of America’s asylum policy changes in the 1920s, 30s and 40s was the needless persecution and deaths of thousands of innocent individuals turned away from our shores.

Today, we cannot sit silently as our nation repeats these disastrous mistakes and inflicts further pain and suffering on the world’s most vulnerable individuals. We call on the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to reject these proposals and to lay the groundwork for restoring, repairing and rebuilding America’s refugee resettlement program and our nation’s global leadership role.

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The Netanyahu government could begin annexing large swaths of the West Bank any day, dealing a major blow to Israel’s democracy and security, Palestinian rights and prospects for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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