For 15 years, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition has held an annual Thanksgiving soiree at the State House to fete the state’s immigrants and refugees, and their allies. On Tuesday, more than 350 immigrants — Haitians, Iraqis, Salvadorans, Panamanians, Chinese — shared, together on Beacon Hill, a meal of turkey and apple pie.
Elected officials and community leaders imparted words of hope and gratitude while acknowledging the real threats foreigners face every day in the Trump era. At a time when the president of the United States is closing the door on asylum seekers and dismantling the refugee resettlement process, the message was clear: There’s room at this table.
“Our nation has always welcomed those escaping violence and war and poverty. We will not allow Donald Trump to close our doors because of hate and fear,” said Senator Ed Markey to thunderous applause during the MIRA event.
Markey was not being hyperbolic. Just this year, President Trump has targeted immigrants on multiple fronts in what appears to be a concerted effort to prevent asylum seekers and refugees fleeing violence, war, and poverty from ever having a chance of coming to the United States. In September, the Trump administration announced it would dramatically cut the number of refugees who will be admitted to the United States in 2020 down to 18,000 — the lowest cap since 1980 — in an era when the number of refugees worldwide is at its highest since World War II. Trump’s more humane predecessors have often set six-figure caps for refugees. In October, not a single refugee was resettled in the United States.
All this amounts to a shameful abdication of the founding principles of our nation. What’s more, to explain abysmal refugee resettlement rates, the Trump administration has manufactured a border problem, arguing in a report to Congress that the low refugee ceiling is a response to the “extraordinary burden on the US immigration system” placed by “the humanitarian and security crisis along the southern border.” In other words, the administration is blaming asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border for its own failures to resettle refugees. As one former government official who worked in refugee resettlement put it: “This is a smokescreen: In fact, the government can handle both.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s response to asylum seekers at the southern border has been to . . . export them. The Migration Protection Protocols, the metering system, and the asylum transit ban — new policies that have taken effect this year — amount to a series of obstacles that make it nearly impossible for anyone seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border, many of whom come from violence-ridden countries in Central America and other parts of the world, to be successful.
Last week, a bicameral bill was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Zoe Lofgren of California to reverse these harmful policies. The Refugee Protection Act of 2019 would expand protections for refugees and restore due process for asylum seekers. It barely made headlines, perhaps because it is thus far supported only by Democrats, and so has little chance of becoming law. But the bill actually echoes American public sentiment: A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe it’s important to take in refugees escaping war and violence.
As the woes of the world test our ability to find time and cause for gratitude, Thanksgiving remains an opportunity to reflect on what we appreciate, and what we have that others lack. As the MIRA luncheon showed on Tuesday, the best way of expressing gratitude for our blessings is by sharing them with those in need. Indeed, America is at its best and most powerful when it is generous toward foreigners and welcomes with open arms those seeking refuge at our shores and our borders — just as we do at our dinner tables.