The mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and President Donald Trump’s disdain for refugees are directly linked, refugee advocates said Sunday at a rally in support of the nation’s resettlement program.
“Make no mistake, there is a straight line connecting the victims in El Paso to the victims we are talking about here today,” Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania, said after calling for a moment of silence. “Refugee resettlement has been a program with bipartisan support for 40 years. We can’t let it be dismantled” by the Trump administration.
About 300 people, some carrying protest signs, gathered in Rittenhouse Square for the “Rise for Refuge” rally, followed by a march to City Hall. The demonstration came a day after a mass shooting left 20 dead at a Walmart in the Texas border city, which has been at the forefront of the nation’s immigration crisis. A separate shooting hours later killed nine in Dayton, Ohio, renewing calls for gun control.
Immigration advocates fear that the U.S. refugee resettlement program, created in 1980, is about to be axed by the Trump administration. By law, the president, in consultation with Congress, must issue a refugee admissions ceiling before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The president set this year’s cap at a historic low of 30,000 — and far fewer than that have actually been admitted as the fiscal year draws to a close. Talk filtering from Washington is that the limit for next year will be set, at best, at 10,000 — and at worst, zero.
Meanwhile, nearly 26 million people worldwide are officially registered as refugees — people who fled their countries because of persecution or fear of it, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Miller-Wilson said the resettlement program is not just a humanitarian effort but “an international peacekeeping tool."
“What happens if you turn your back on millions of desperate people? Nothing good," she told the crowd.
The rally was organized by Philadelphia’s primary resettlement agencies — HIAS Pennsylvania and Nationalities Service Center — which have placed more than 5,000 refugees in the region over the last 5 years. Also helping with the rally was the Refugee Congress, an advocacy and advisory organization.
A goal of the event was to get attendees to pressure Congress to pass the Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement Act, or GRACE, which would set an annual refugee admissions floor of 95,000. Pennsylvania’s freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat, is a sponsor.
Dean is scheduled to join Mayor Jim Kenney, advocates and others on Monday at City Hall for a news conference promoting the GRACE Act.
Refugees hold a specific legal status that distinguishes them from other migrant classifications. If chosen for resettlement in the United States, they undergo extensive security checks and must apply for permanent-resident status a year after admission.
Abdulhadi Al-Karfawi, known as “Hadi,” spoke at the rally about his quest to immigrate to the U.S. after being persecuted in his native Iraq for serving as an interpreter for American troops.
“It’s took me almost 10 years to get a visa. I felt like I was left behind,” he said. “But I’ve left a lot of people behind. They need someone to speak up for them.”