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In 2018, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, the registered Afghan refugee population -- at almost 2.5 million -- was the largest in Asia and second only to Syria on the planet. According to Amnesty International, that figure has now topped 2.6 million, or one of every 10 refugees globally, with no end in sight. And small wonder in a country whose people have found themselves at war ever since, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush and crew sent the U.S. military not just to get Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers but to take out the Taliban, then ruling most of Afghanistan. In the almost 18 years since then, America's wars (and the terror groups that grew with them) have spread across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, a process that has yet to result in a single victory but has singularly set off events that have uprooted or displaced staggering numbers of people, most recently, of course, in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria.
So, in our grim world, consider it an irony that the American people elected a man to the presidency who, from the first moments of his campaign, has been focused not on our invasions of other countries or those we displaced but on global migrants invading us. Call it an irony of the grimmest sort that the most disruptive power of this century has spent these last years dreaming about walling itself in and walling the suffering and displaced out, whether via Donald Trump's "great wall" or Muslim bans and other grotesque means.
As TomDispatch regular Arnold Isaacs makes clear today, the Trumpian and right-wing obsession with immigrants only worsens by the month. In response, Isaacs offers his own Trumpian-style logo for what's been happening. Hold the red hats! Tom
MACA or Making America Crueler Again
The White House Targets Refugees, Green Card Applicants, and Poor Immigrants
By Arnold R. Isaacs
On September 26th, President Donald Trump's White House announced that, in 2020, refugee admissions to the United States will be limited to 18,000, drastically lower than any yearly ceiling over the past 40 years. Along with that announcement, the White House released a separate executive order intended to upend many years of precedent by giving state and local authorities the power to deny refugees resettlement in their jurisdictions.
Nine days later, Trump issued another directive ordering that new immigrant visas be restricted to those who can afford unsubsidized health insurance coverage or are affluent enough to pay for their own health-care costs. Meanwhile, his administration was heading into the final days of a planned timetable to implement new restrictions that would make it harder for needy immigrants to get a green card and work legally to support themselves and their families. That plan has been thwarted, at least temporarily, by orders from judges in three different federal courts.
Those separate but related actions are the latest pages in another dark chapter in the Trump administration's anti-immigration binge. Together, they steer the U.S. government onto an even more heartless course, setting policies that will not just harm people directly covered by the new provisions but will cause significant collateral damage.
The local option to prevent resettlement will stir up anti-immigrant groups and inflame the national immigration debate, making that issue and the country's racial divides even more toxic than they already are. In addition to keeping many more desperate people out of this country, the refugee cutback will harm organizations that help refugees already here and destroy Washington's ability to persuade other countries to deal with the worldwide tidal wave of refugees displaced by wars and other catastrophes.
The new green card rules, if they overcome court challenges and go into effect, will greatly expand the grounds for finding that an applicant might become a "public charge." That will deny legal employment to many of the most vulnerable immigrants and lead others to forgo badly needed benefits to which they are legally entitled -- a trend already evident before those rules even take effect. Similarly, the new requirement that immigrants be capable of paying for health insurance will not just penalize foreign nationals applying for visas, but in many cases keep family members already in the U.S., including children and spouses, from reuniting with loved ones seeking to join them.
These policies have one more thing in common: none of them has anything to do with illegal immigration.
Refugees hoping for resettlement in the United States are not only seeking to enter the country legally but doing so through the most rigorous and time-consuming of all procedures for getting a visa. Those already here who could be excluded from a state or locality under the new regulations are lawfully in the country, not part of an "invasion" (as Trump calls it) of undocumented immigrants who have crossed the border illegally. Immigrants applying for green cards or visa applicants subject to the health insurance requirement are within the law by definition.
The New Refugee Ban, Town By Town
The "local option" giving state and local governments the right to block the resettlement of newly admitted refugees in their territory has been the least noticed of these new initiatives so far. It has, however, the potential for far-reaching, troubling, even dangerous effects. If the plan survives the expected court challenges and resettlement organizations have to get written approval from state and local authorities before placing new arrivals in specific locations, that could mobilize anti-immigrant activists across the country to put pressure on local officials, intensifying the politicization of refugee issues and galvanizing ugly forces in this society.
The heads of two of the nine national organizations that administer the resettlement program for the State Department's Office of Refugee Resettlement have been blunt in their criticism of the local option policy. It "shocks the conscience," the Reverend John McCullough, CEO and president of Church World Service, declared in a statement. "This proposal would embolden racist officials to deprive refugees of their rights under U.S. law. This proposal is a slippery slope that takes our country backward. The ugly history of institutionalized segregation comes to mind."
In a similar vein, Mark Hetfield, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), described the order as "in effect, a state-by-state, city-by-city refugee ban, and it's un-American and wrong. Is this the kind of America we want to live in? Where local towns can put up signs that say 'No Refugees Allowed' and the federal government will back that?"