Stricter rules as Trump’s refugee ban expires

New arrivals: 39,000 Muslim refugees entered the USA in 2016 — the highest number on record.

Should the USA be leading the world on welcoming refugees? As Donald Trump’s 120-day suspension comes to an end, the White House plans to allow refugees from all countries to settle.

“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words form the end of a sonnet engraved on the Statue of Liberty. They were written by Emma Lazarus, a New York-born Jewish woman who was helping thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe to find sanctuary in the United States.

They quickly came to symbolise America’s sense of itself as “a nation of immigrants”.

Then along came Trump. Build a wall. Ban Muslims. For liberals, it was a shocking repudiation of their idea of America. Earlier this year he suspended the US Refugee Admissions Programme for 120 days in an executive order which also temporarily banned people entering from seven Muslim countries.

But those 120 days are now up, and the Trump administration will accept refugees once again. There are, however, heavy new restrictions in place.

The government will collect more biographical data, such as names of family members and places of employment. They will also do more to mine social media to see, for example, if refugees’ public statements are consistent with the stories they offer in their applications.

The policy reflects Trump’s “America first” principle. He has promised to cut legal immigration by half and to deport all illegal immigrants. But his opponents point out that refugees are not normal or economic migrants; but people whose lives are at risk.

The countries from which the USA accepted most refugees in 2016 — Congo, Syria and Myanmar — all have thousands of people with legitimate asylum claims.

But according to Pew Research, the US public has seldom approved of accepting large numbers of refugees, and this concern has grown since Europe’s migration crisis. In 2016, 54% of voters said the USA does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria, while 41% said it does.

Should the USA be more welcoming?

Turning in

“America cannot solve all the world’s problems,” say some. Drug deaths and murders are up, while wages are stagnant. Any government must prioritise its own people — those who voted them in, and those whose taxes they collect. Germany’s welcoming attitude to refugees has caused many problems for the country, and America should not follow suit.

“What a disgraceful attitude,” reply others. Tens of millions of Americans can trace an ancestor who was persecuted abroad and found safety in the USA. And America has often played a key role in destabilising countries from which it is now reluctant to accept refugees. Their need far outweighs the potential costs to the American taxpayer.

You Decide

  1. Should America take the lead in welcoming refugees?
  2. How linked are the issues of migration and refugee policy?


  1. Without looking it up, define what you think a refugee is. Then compare it with the United Nations definition.
  2. Write 500 words on whether you think “America First” (or “France First” or “Japan First”) is a good rule for a government to follow.

Some People Say...

“Remember, remember always, that all of us are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Trump administration set an initial cap on 50,000 refugees, before completely suspending the programme for 120 days in July. Yesterday those 120 days have expired, and so now the government will start allowing more refugees in, but with heavier vetting. About 3m refugees have been resettled in the USA since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which set the current standard for the screening and admission of refugees into the country.
What do we not know?
The number of refugees around the world has grown in recent years, and it is unclear whether that will last. According to the UN, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world has topped 65m, the highest it has been since the second world war.

Word Watch

Statue of Liberty
The famous poem (called The New Colossus) was the subject of controversy earlier this year after CNN reporter Jim Acosta quoted it to Trump aide Stephen Miller. In response, Miller told reporters the poem is not part of the original Statue of Liberty, and that the statue is a "symbol of American liberty lighting the world" and has little to do with immigrants.
A violent riot aimed at a particular group, most commonly associated with attacks on Jews in Eastern Europe. The word comes from the Russian verb pogromit meaning “to demolish violently”.
US Refugee Admissions Programme
A group of government agencies and independent organisations which work together to bring refugees to the USA.
Illegal immigrants
In 2015 there were 11m illegal immigrants residing in the USA, representing 3.4% of the country’s population. Despite his rhetoric, deportations are down under Trump compared with the Obama administration.
Drug deaths
There were around 60,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the USA last year, compared with just 17,000 in 2000.

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