"Denying Refuge: Refugee and Asylum Policies under the Trump Administration" SwatTalk
with Alex Aleinikoff '74
Recorded on March 5, 2019
Laura McKee: So pleased to offer the third of our series of Swat talks by the Alumni Council. These have been organized by various Alumni Council members and I have to give a shout out to Julian Harper and the Alumni Council team who have been been working on these Swat talks. My name is Laura McKee, and I am here in Chicago, Illinois, and my co-host from the Alumni Council is Dan Feinberg. Do you wanna give a wave Dan? And we're so pleased to have Alex Aleinikoff here with us today. Alex is a class of 1974 and is a scholar on immigration, and the host of a podcast called Tempest Tossed which you may recognize from the poem on the Statue of Liberty. So you can get Tempest Tossed on all the podcast sources that you would normally search for podcasts. Doctor Aleinikoff is a professor at the new school focusing on migration and mobility, and also the author of a couple of books including a forthcoming book tentatively titled The Arc of Protection: Reforming the International Refugee Regime with Leah Zamore. His book Semblances of Sovereignty: The Constitution, the State, and American Citizenship was published by Harvard University Press in 2002. I'm gonna turn over the mic and the screen to Doctor Aleinikoff and we're really looking forward to hearing his talk. So I believe he's already live there, and I'm gonna mute myself.
Alex Aleinikoff: Thanks Laura, I hope you are hearing me? Yes, good. Thanks. Great, well hello to everybody. Hello to all the Swatties out there. My great pleasure to be with you tonight in this interesting form of communication. I hope it, hope it goes well. You apparently can see me, I can't see you but I hope there's some people listening cause I've seen you sign in from these different places around the country. And it's actually, I'll be saying a bunch about this but it is interesting that in our refugee program in the United States before it has really come under serious attack from this administration, the refugees were resettled all around the country. My guess is that a number of you probably are with community groups that have taken refugees in over the last number of years, and it's been a real strength of the program that people have come in and been able to settle in local communities, so that those communities could get, could begin to understand the refugee situation. Work with the family, and learn about the tradition of this country, welcoming refugees. I wanna talk about the time this year that Trump's attack on refugees and asylum. The seekers, and I'll break that up into discussion, both of the US refugee program and the asylum seeking in the United States. These are two separate ways the refugees come into the country. The refugee system selects people from overseas and brings them in. They're selected, and processed, and brought in through this formal program. Asylum seekers are people who show up at the border and request political asylum where they're inside the country already, and ask for asylum. The standard to judge both under international law and under US law is the same, whether they meet the definition of refugee, but they're two very different ways to come into the country. They have different histories, and I'll talk about both because the Trump Administration has really tried to undermine both of these routes in, in a way that has cost the US its leadership on these issues around the world, and I think it's done very serious damage to the system we have here. So, let me start with the global story, a bit in the US overseas refugee program, and then I'll talk about the asylum seeking process at the border inside the United States. So, I'm sure many of you are aware that we have the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people around the world. Highest number since World War II. The international agency, UNHCR, puts the number at about 68 million people. That's about the population of the United Kingdom. It's a huge number, and about a third of those people are refugees, meaning they've crossed an international border. They've fled from their home state to another country, usually right nearby, right next door, 25 million or so, and about 40 million are displaced within their own country. They are called internally displaced, or IDPs occasionally. They likewise have been forced in their home. These are 68 million people who have been pushed out of their homes because of conflict or violence, and it doesn't include another 10 or 20 million people a year who are displaced because of national disasters and increasingly because of climate change, which is leading to the flooding of seas or the desertification of large areas of land. This is really going to be the story over the next 10, 20 years, is going to be forced migration due to climate change more than even conflict and violence. We don't have a system that's really ready to deal with this yet but we maybe can get to that in some of the questions and answers here. The United States helped create the International Refugee Regime in the 1950s and it's been a top financial supporter for the International Regime for many, many years. Until the Trump Administration, the US resettled more refugees than the entire rest of the world, combined. More than 50% of the worlds resettled refugees were resettled in the United States. Now, of the 25 million refugees in the world, probably less than 200, a 100 less, 150,000 a year are actually resettled. Most refugees stay in the countries to which they flee from their home state next door. There's a significant resettlement program and that's what the US used to lead. Let me just give you some of the numbers here to give you a sense of what has happened to our program. In the last year of the Obama Administration, President Obama set the number for refugees to come into the country, and this is set by a presidential statement with consultation by Congress, where the president sets these numbers. Obama set the number at 110,000 for 2017 fiscal year. Trump came in and it's sometimes forgotten, but part of the executive order he issued that the so-called Muslim ban that stopped people coming in from Muslim dominant, Muslim majority countries on regular Visa's, he also put a hold of the refugee program and reduced the number for the year to 50,000. Actually about 54,000 came in because there were court cases that put the ban on hold for a little while, and people were able to come in, but this one for 110 thousand under Obama, Trump cut it, and in that year actually only 54,000 came in. Then in fiscal year 2018, the number was set at 45,000 by the Trump Administration and the actual number that were admitted was only about 22,000, because even within the 45,000 is the maximum the president, the administration, would bring in, but they were so slow in the processing. They slowed it so far down that they actually only took in 22,000. So now we're going from 110,000 under Obama, to 22,000. In fiscal year 19, which we're currently in, the fiscal year goes from October 1st to September 30th, we're in fiscal year 19. The number now set is 30,000, and we're unlikely to reach that number because in the first five months only 9,000 refugees have come in. Now this is really, at a time of the most number of displaced people since World War II, for the US to be reducing it's admissions by, may well be by 70, 80% by the time we're done, is just a shame. I mean it's certainly, but for the 70, 80, 90,000 refugees who will not be resettled into the United States is a real human cost and to their family members, but also for the leadership of the United States around the world, because the world notices what the United States does and how it's handling refugee resettlement. It's not as if the rest of the world is gonna step up and take new numbers. It may embolden countries that are not interested in resettlement. Now, one thing that's interesting here is that the Trump Administration has not reduced its funding to international agencies that help refugees. So it's funding for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is about 1.5 billion dollars. That's a lot of money. It's about 40% of UNHCR's overall budget. Very important to the international system, and you may wonder what happened at the, why they are cutting refugees coming in but still funding. The strategy, really, seems to be consistent with what a number of the Western European countries are doing as well. The strategy seems to be, let's take care of refugees where they are. Where they, the country, the so-called country of first asylum. Let's take care of them there and then we don't have to bring them in to our country. So, 85% or so of refugees reside in the Global South, in countries of first asylum. As I said, resettlement numbers have gone way down. The clearest example that this is the White House strategy, is an interesting anecdote here, that the White House asked the Department of Health and Human Services to write a report, and in that report to look at the cost of taking care of a refugee in the United States versus the cost of taking care of a refugee overseas, in this country of first asylum. HHS prepared it's report and it didn't just do that, it also looked at the benefit that the refugee brought to the United States over the length of time that the refugee would likely be in the United States. The HHS data showed, oh clearly it's more expensive to take care of someone here than in Ethiopia or Kenya, or other, or Pakistan, or Iran, other countries of first asylum, but the study also showed that over the long run, refugees returned much more to the country economically than they took in the original, initial benefits they got from the government. Well, Stephen Miller in the White House didn't like that result and they buried the report, but it came out through leaks from the State Department and elsewhere, so we know that this report actually exists. You can tell from the way that the question was framed, that it's all an attempt to keep refugees where they are in their countries of first asylum. The most recent thing the US did here, the Trump Administration did, which is again, I think not a healthy sign for the overall system, was to not approve the Global Compact on Refugees. The UN spent two years debating a new Global Compact on Refugees. This was not a new treaty in terms of binding law, it didn't impose any new obligations on states, but it did have some important statements about how refugee response should be done around the world, and the importance of providing more assistance to these hosting states. There were two countries that didn't sign on to the Global Compact on Refugees. One was Hungary, and the other was the United States. So, the overseas refugee, the system, the Trump Administration has almost killed it and in doing so, it has done real damage to the nine national UN, I'm sorry, nine national US organizations that do the resettlement here. The way the resettlement program works is that refugees are identified overseas, they go through processing, they're brought into the country, given the state's required Visa, but then met by a voluntary agency. An NGO in the United States like the Catholics, and the Lutherans, and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society now called HIAS, and IRC International Rescue Committee. These are large national organizations who then resettle these refugees all around the country into two or three hundred different local affiliates. Well, this huge cut in numbers, 'cause with those numbers came funding for these organizations, has meant a significant cut in these national organizations ability to fund their local efforts, and staff has been laid off and offices have been closed. Now this can be reversed I suppose, again, if these numbers go back up and federal funding follows, but it's had a really devastating impact on the system, as I said, sent a really awful message, I think, around the world about a program that we used to be totally non-partisan. There was Democrats and Republicans alike supported the resettlement of refugees into the United States, and that has really undergone severe cuts under the Trump Administration. Now, let me talk a little bit about the asylum process here. This is the second route into the country, and when people get to the border they can request asylum, if they were in the country they can request asylum, and then they're either brought an asylum officer, an immigration judge, I won't go through the whole process, but they go through a preceding where they can see if they can demonstrate that they are a refugee. The test for a refugee is established by international law, and adopted in US laws, you have to show a well-founded fear of persecution if you're returned home, and the persecution has to be on account of your race, religion, national origin, membership in a social group, or political opinion. So it's a pretty big definition. Some people think it's not big enough. It doesn't cover climate change and other things we could talk about, but it was enough to allow thousands of people to get asylum in the United States. Now, even before Trump under the Obama years, the numbers of asylum seekers, two things happening, the number of asylum seekers are going up. This was largely due to the countries in the so-called northern triangle of Central America. Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which are countries with some of the highest levels of crime, of violence, in the world, per capita, and people were fleeing. These were people fleeing local gangs, corrupt governments, and domestic violence that the government wouldn't take steps to stop. They were coming to the United States, and many of them were getting asylum in the United States. The Trump Administration essentially viewed these asylum seekers as simply part of the flow coming across the southwest border that a wall would stop, that had to be stopped. You know, in fairness to Trump, the Obama Administration sort of thought the same thing, and they took measures to deter people from coming into the border. They provided some kind of process by which you could apply in your home country to try to come to the US, but that was a small effort, but the idea that people should show up at the border and request asylum in large numbers and they had to then be taken care of, was something the Obama Administration wanted to put a damper on, in part because it was interested in passing comprehensive immigration reform and needed to show that it was, had the southwest border pretty well controlled, but anyway. So, Trump comes in and decides he really wants to close down the border, and it's not enough simply in his mind, when he first announced his campaign, he talked about Mexico sending people into the country. But that's not really the issue at the southwest border now. The flow of the number of Mexicans apprehended at the southwest border is down 90% from what it was in 2000, when the more than a million apprehensions at the southwest border overwhelmingly, Mexicans coming to the US to work, that flow has ended. That flow has ended. In fact, in the last four or five years, there have been more Mexicans leaving the United States than entering the United States, and that outflow of migrants back to Mexico from the United States. So, what really was happening at the southwest border was a surge in these people fleeing these violent situations in Central America. So, advocates for asylum seekers said, gee, these are really serious cases, and we need to have a system that takes care of them. The Trump Administrations view was no, we need to deter them from coming. What they were really taking aim at was this policy, and I really, this is the phrase they used, a phrase I don't like, but they called it catch and release. What they meant by that, was that in the old days when Mexicans would come to the border, they'd be picked up by the border patrol, and they would accept voluntary return immediately back to Mexico, but when you have asylum seekers they would say No, no, we don't want to go back to our countries, we want to ask for asylum. So they'd be detained for a short period of time but then because there was inadequate detention space or a court said they should be released, they were let go into the country. The Trump Administrations claim was that people were abusing the asylum system by coming here asking for asylum, being released into the country, and not showing up for the hearings which is not accurate. People do, in fact, show up for their hearings but that was certainly the view that there was this hole in the enforcement effort at the southwest border, because people could ask for asylum. So, let me just briefly mention five or six different things the Trump Administration has done that has really damaged our asylum system in this country. First of all, they changed the substantive rules. So, there have been a long effort by advocates to recognize as an asylum claim, the ability of women who have been subject to domestic violence at home, but the government has been unable or unwilling to protect them, they could raise an asylum claim if they could demonstrate that they were being abused on one of these protected grounds because they were a woman or because they had spoken out in some way about issues, and they were really horrible cases of domestic abuse that had been protected through our system. One of the last things that Jeff's sessions did before he was fired by Donald Trump, was to issue a decision that basically said we're not gonna recognize these kinds of claims anymore. I can go through the technicality of the law here, but I won't, but it basically said for these kinds of private discrimination, either domestic violence or gang violence, which is quite prevalent in these countries in the northern triangle countries, we're not gonna recognize this substantively. So, he cut out these kinds of claims to start, and then many other things. You are all, I'm sure, well aware of the child separation policy that was first denied that it existed, and then admitted, and then the courts stopped it. This is how is happened. So the Trump Administration wants to deter asylum seekers from coming, and they figure if they take them and let them apply for asylum and release them then, the folks will be gone forever. So they adopted a policy that was called, they called Zero Tolerance. What that meant is that anybody who came into the country who was caught illegally entering the country in between ports of entry, they would be criminally prosecuted. Now, there is in our law, there is a misdemeanor offense to if you come into the country illegally you could be criminally prosecuted with a misdemeanor. If you are deported and come back in again, then it could be a felony, and those crimes were from time to time prosecuted where people who have been deported a couple of times, the government said enough, and then used criminal process system. The criminal system. But there had never been this kind of prosecution of first-time people coming across the border. The purpose here was to separate these kids, because if someone came with a kid, and they were criminally prosecuted, the kid couldn't follow the person into criminal detention while their case was pending, so the kid would be taken away. There were 2500 or more children separated from their parents. The idea was that not only would the parents be prosecuted, but the parents would, they could apply for asylum but more likely they'd wanna get home and have their kid given back to them, and get out of this process, or they didn't at, because of the moment they'd file very cursory claims that could be denied, and that was the policy. That kind of really devastating policy for these families until a court ruled that it was unconstitutional and the policy was stopped, given the public outcry. And then you're aware of the caravan. Trump saw these caravans forming, described them like almost gathering storms. They're gathering in Honduras and marching through Mexico, and this is an invasion of our country, and they're Middle Easterners that are a part of this caravan that was portrayed in this really terrible way as an invasion and dangers to the country. These were asylum seekers, predominantly. Not all, there were other people, some of them coming to enter the country and work here because of our booming economy, but a lot of asylum seekers among them, and they joined into a caravan for some protection so that they wouldn't be trafficked or run into smugglers, need the services of smugglers. The idea was they'd come as a caravan, present themselves at the border, request asylum and get into the process here but Trump didn't want people showing up at the border. So, as you all remember, he campaigned vociferously against the caravans before the mid-term elections. It didn't work. The Democrats sent the House back and it was a failed campaign strategy, but nonetheless it was the way he talked about this caravan and demonized asylum seekers and people coming here for safety rather than saying boy, there are a lot of people in this caravan who need our help. Not everybody, let's get more judges to the border and adjudicate the cases, and the people that need protection we'll take care of. The people who are coming to simply come get a job, they're gonna have to go home. None of that. He wanted to stop the caravans. He wanted Mexico to stop the caravans, in a way to send a message to them. If you'll remember, he sent the military to the border, which a lot of military people thought was a mistake because it took the military away from other possible duties they might need to do, and because it was a total waste of money. Because they weren't, first of all, military is not allowed to enforce the immigration laws under federal law, but it was simply a show. It was a show to stop people from coming. And two more things, and then I'll stop and we can have a conversation here. The other thing he did, the Justice Department, adopted regulations with the Department of Homeland Security here at the presidents request, was to say the people who entered the country between ports of entry who came over the border, illegally entered the country, and then walked up to a border patrol agent and said "I'm here to request asylum," they would be automatically denied asylum in an exercise of discretion. The idea here was people should go to the ports of entry and wait outside the ports of entry, and we'll take them when we can through the ports of entry. Well, this is pretty clearly a violation of the US law which says a person could apply for asylum anywhere in the United States. The law is pretty clear on this. This has gone to court and there's already been a preliminary injunction that has stopped the administration on this as well. I mean, one of the interesting things as you've noticed that I go through all these different policies that have been adopted, is that almost all of them, I didn't mention this about the sessions substantive decision either, they've all been stopped in lower courts. They've all been rejected as violations of law, and now the Trump Administration will take these up through the system, and they're gonna wanna try to get a favor rule decision from the Supreme Court on this, of course, but nonetheless there's been some terrific lawyering out there that have stopped an awful lot of these decisions, because a lot of them are pretty clearly in violation of US law. This is one of them. The Trump plan was, if the people come between ports of entry, they're gonna automatically go back, can't request asylum. Wait in Mexico. This became known as the Remain in Mexico policy, or this horrible euphemism, the Migration Protection Protocols. The MPP it's called by the US government, and they've worked this out with Mexico in somewhat of a surprise as a new Mexican government, new president who said that migration was a human right, and that he was going to help people get safety and get to the United States and that, he's turned around on that and is working with the Trump Administration now to adopt this Remain in Mexico policy which the Trump Administration has put in place at a few of the ports of entry. So what does this all mean? I mean, someone they try to stop the caravans from coming, if they do get to the border they're not gonna be able to enter and request asylum. They'll have to wait in Mexico and the US is taking only a handful of these asylum cases on a daily basis and people are waiting in very difficult situations on the other side of the Mexican border. Some are giving up and going home, others are recruiting smugglers to help them try to find a way into the United States some other way, which of course is a very dangerous way to try to enter. So, to summarize the system, this is really a radical attack on the international protection system. The first is a loss of the US leadership on the resettlement to the International Refugee Regime overseas, I did mention the US is still funding at a high level but in terms of resettlement, it is a way to undercut any kind of global responsibility sharing system, and basically say "Okay refugees, "stay in the country you fled in. "Go home as soon as you can, "we're not gonna help out in terms "of sharing these numbers around the world." Then at the US border, every possible way the Trump Administration could, it's tried to stop asylum seekers from getting here, and denying their claims once they're here. I think there are things that could be done. No one thinks it's a good idea for people who have to walk a thousand miles through Mexico, to try to file asylum claims here. It's dangerous, it's a long trek, it's just not the way things should work but there needs to be a better adjudication system in the United States. I haven't really talked about the fact that the backlog of asylum cases in the US now is over two or three hundred thousand cases waiting to be adjudicated so we need more resources to do that, and we probably ought to think about, and I'll close on this. We probably ought to think about how we can have a work and admissions program directly from these northern triangle countries, so people don't have to undertake this dangerous trek, so one could imagine a humanitarian program that would bring in 50, 60,000 people a year if they have family connections here or a particularly strong humanitarian case. That would actually under, you wouldn't need a caravan to move. You could wait at home and try to apply through this process. Would offer protection, it would offer safety coming into the country, and would also restore, really, I think the honor and the dignity of this country which has been so tarnished by the actions of the Trump Administration. Let me stop there.
Dan Feinberg: Thank you very much. This is Dan Feinberg, I am the co-host tonight. That was a great summary of recent developments in refuge policy in the United States. Unfortunately none of them were good developments, but it's important for everybody to understand the Trump Administrations attack on refugees. While you were talking, we had some questions from viewers. One of them was what are your thoughts on the news that came out today? There was a big New York Times article that there's been a big surge in recent months of families trying to cross the US, Mexico border. Apparently in the last few months, there's been more families trying to cross than in the prior year.
Alex Aleinikoff: Well I think two things about that. One, it shows the difficulties in the home country. It's a greater argument for the need for protection here, and I'm not saying, you know, every single one of these families deserves asylum in the United States. I mean, there is some evidence that people bring kids on these dangerous journeys because they think that it will help them get into the country, and then they'll see what happens. There needs to be a system that can sort out the good claims from the bad claims. You know, this is not an easy trek and if people are coming, they're coming because they're really in pretty dire straits. That should be how we start the discussion. Not that they're illegal aliens trying to abuse our system and they're criminals if they come to the country. The second thing I point out is he missed the numbers tick up a bit. The numbers are so far below what they were, as I mentioned. In 2000, I said million, there were 1.6 million apprehensions at the southwest border. There are now maybe two or 300,000, so we're down 70, 80% in terms of his claims. It's a number that can easily be handled at the border. So the fact that it's gone up slightly under Trump, it's gone up and down, but it's still so far below what it was 10 or 15 years ago. The southwest border is really under control. One other fact on this, there are now, people can be undocumented in the country in two ways. They can come in legally over the border, or they can get here on a Visa, like a tourist Visa or a student Visa, and then stay beyond the time they're supposed to be here. The data is pretty clear now, that 2/3 of the undocumented population in the last four or five years, comes from these so-called Visa over-stayers. People who come on Visa's to stay, and these are people from India and China, and from Mexico and other countries. But the real, if we're really concerned about illegal immigration, we should be worried about people who come on Visa's and don't go home. It's not the problem at the southwest border, but the Trump Administration has been able to divide the fineness as a southwest border problem, so if there's a slight surge in the number of people coming, rather than that being seen as a humanitarian problem it's seen as a horrible invasion by criminal aliens. It's such a distortion of the facts. It's such a big lie that it's just astounding that this has sort of swept the country and this is what a lot of people think is the central problem in our immigration system, and it's just not. Last point on this, the United States still hands out a million green cards a year. So there's three times as many people who come legally to the country, as those we think. Apprehended at the southwest border, that doesn't even tell us how many of those people actually eventually get in. I think if you ask most Americans, they would think the numbers were reversed. That many, many people come illegally, and a few people come on green cards. Again, this is not our system. It's not our, anyway, enough. I've gone on and on. We need another question. I'm excited about this stuff.
Laura McKee: I just wanna note that we actually have 64 people participating in this webinar, so thank you so much for creating a space to have this conversation, and we also have a way for people to raise their hands, and I think Dianna Tucker has raised her hand and she's been unmuted to go ahead and ask a question. Everyone, if you could please state your class at Swarthmore as you ask your question, that would help us get a feel for who all is participating. Dianna, are you there?
Dan Feinberg: Dianne?
Laura McKee: Um, so we may be having technical difficulties. While we see if we can bring her back, there are many other questions. So here's one from Patty, Culinart. Americans primarily oppose to the Trump Administration policies on refugees and asylum seekers, and also isn't it true that our European allies have taken in far more refugees and asylum seekers than the US? Are Americans moved by this in terms of their thinking to do our fair share to help the global crisis?
Alex Aleinikoff: Alright, I'll try to answer. I'll be brief on all these questions, although they're all terrific questions and deserve a full answer. Look, one of the really good things that's come out of this, is that it's pretty clear that the American people oppose really all of the Trump immigration policies. On all the polling on the wall, on the cuts in refugees, on the Muslim ban, go down the list, majorities oppose these policies and that's a good sign, and many of them have been stopped in the courts. So yeah, I think that's right. I think Americans are primarily opposed to these policies. The Europeans have not taken in as many refugees in terms of resettlement program, but what Germany did is there were a million asylum seekers that showed up at their border, and they took them in. A million, a million. In terms of refugees, it's not just Europeans. Turkey has 3.5 million Syrians. Half a million in the city of Istanbul. Lebanon is a country of four million people. It's taken a million Syrians, and last year we took a hundred or two Syrians. I mean, it's just the world upside down here in what effort we could be putting into this. So, look, there's some other questions here about what do we do about this, what's the possibility, I mean, but I think the first thing is we need to call this out. We need to say look, this is not what we've done in the past, this is not our tradition, at least since World War II it's not our tradition. We believe in refugees, it's been a non, bipartisan, non-partisan issue to accept refugees. Then it's either gonna take court challenges or electoral change here to change these policies. The president does have a lot of authority in immigration and foreign affairs, and on the refugee numbers, and I don't think these things will change until there's somebody else in the White House, quite frankly.
Dan Feinberg: Thank you. While we're waiting on someone who raised their hand to ask a question, there was another question I think someone, perhaps, looking for a little bit of light in this rather gloomy picture. Wondering if you could speak a little bit about some of the work you're doing, really, to help refugees.
Alex Aleinikoff: Okay, well I wouldn't point to myself in particular. As I said, there are a lot of lawyers out there who are doing some really terrific work on bringing these cases, and there are NGO's at the border that are providing, trying to provide medical care and other kinds of assistance for people who come into the country. So there has been a really, an outpouring of effort, if people can get into the country, in terms of taking care of them. The work I've been doing has been a lot on the international system. One of the, without talking for too long about the international system, one of the real systems that's, um, okay. One of the, I think someone's unmuted so we're getting a bit of feedback here but, what's really missing in the international system is a global responsibility sharing system. A way that other countries in the world can help these countries of first asylum, so I've been trying to work with groups at the UN, and through a number of projects to try to help create a better global responsibility sharing system for the world as a whole. Most of the work in the US has been carried out by practicing lawyers, which I no longer am, I'm just a teacher.
Dan Feinberg: So, Richard Hoffman raised his hand. He has a question, and I think he's actually unmuted so let's see if this works, if he can ask his question now.
Richard Hoffman: Somebody asked where everybody's from, or what class. I graduated in the class of 1949, that's all I wanted to say.
Alex Aleinikoff: That's great.
Dan Feinberg: Yes, we have, I think from what I'm seeing we have a wide range of representation, although we may skew a little bit towards gray hair in terms of the people who are attending. Kate Frew, of class of 81, wanted to know if you, if we should be surprised that there wasn't an even greater outcry about the child separation policy and the length of time it took to actually reunite the kids with their parents. Although, I don't even think that's been completed yet.
Alex Aleinikoff: It hasn't. I actually have a slightly different view in that I thought there really was a huge public outcry and it's what led Trump to change the policy more than the courts. It was similar to what happened at the airports with the Muslim ban. I mean I thought it was pretty quick. For a while, it wasn't even admitted by the government that they had this policy. They denied it, that there was any kind of policy. They've now shown they have these internal memos that they wanna question Kirstjen Nielsen about because she may have not told the truth to Congress when she talked about this. But I thought once it became public, there was a pretty quick outcry and a pretty quick turnaround by the president. You're right Dan, not all the children have been reunited. Many, many have but there was a number of these parents accepted return to their home countries so their kids would come back to them and they haven't been able to locate and put these kids and parents back together, so they're, last I heard about a month or two ago there were maybe a couple hundred kids that were still not reunited. But again, what happened at the airports and the outcry about separation, it shows that lawyers can do some work here, but it also shows what an organized public can do. What protests can do to rally people to object to a lot of what's going on here.
Laura McKee: Yay, lawyers.
Dan Feinberg: Yay, I have a lot of friends who work for the ACLU, and certainly the Trump Administration has been a very busy time for the ACLU.
Alex Aleinikoff: Yeah.
Dan Feinberg: They've been hiring. We had another question, well first of all, there's a few attendees who wanted to tell me that they don't have gray hair yet and of course I'm envious, but we had another question. Someone wanted to know, ask why international NGO's haven't been helping out at the US border with Mexico, and I'm kinda curious cause this would almost seem to be a situation where other people outside the United States should be trying to help out.
Alex Aleinikroff: I don't have great facts on that, but my understanding was there were a number of NGO's at the Mexican side. I don't know about US NGO's down there. I know they've been on the American side of the border. So I actually don't have a great answer on that one. I don't know what access they have, what kinda facilities there are for them there, but there may be others on the line who actually could enlighten us on this.
Dan Feinberg: Also though, there was an incisive question noting, picking up on your drawing a connection between climate change and the increase in refugees in recent years. It strikes me that there's a lot in common between climate change and the refugee situation because both of them require a coordinated international response, and I was wondering whether there was any chance for some kind of international agreement along the lines of the Paris Agreement when it comes to dealing with the rights of refugees.
Alex Aleinikroff: Yeah, so that, people have proposed that. It's a really good question. You did get the world together, to come together and say look, we've really gotta do something. And again there weren't binding norms, there were these promises, commitments made, and in fact, the Global Compact on Refugees doesn't come close to the Paris Accord it terms of setting an overall goal of reducing the flow of, I mean, helping refugees out or working on root causes of refugees through development programs. Some of that's being done bilaterally. I mean, Europe may help particular countries in Africa to try to make conditions so some people won't have to leave but we don't have that yet. I think that's really what we need to work towards. This is what I was trying to say before, I didn't say it very well, but when the Refugee Convention was adopted in 1951 it talked about the rights of refugees for people who fled the state and settled elsewhere that they were entitled the whole set of rights. Their right to work, right to education, right to labor law protection, et cetera, et cetera. But it did not establish a system of responsibility sharing of the refugee numbers around the world, and that's what we need to get to. It's tough here because we've seen in the states that would be really major members of that system, we've had the rise of these right-wing parties, these populous parties, that have been very tough on immigration and refugee issues, and have announced they don't want more refugees coming. In Europe, because their seen as Muslim and dangerous so they're not our responsibility, so this is gonna require some political work in those countries before we can get there. I think we'll be there. I think, actually, climate on the other, and climate works two ways. One, it's the model for how countries may come together, but two, it's gonna be a cause of massive movements of people, many more probably that are now fleeing because of conflict. So, we're gonna have to deal with this problem and I think, I mean I'm always optimistic, just frequently disappointed, but I think that if we start talking about it this way, we can move to a place where we'll eventually get this kind of standing group of nations that will respond when these refugee crisis happen, which we don't have now in the world. It's very odd, if you think about it, when the Syrian crisis happened there was never a, the Secretary General, the United States, no one called together a group of countries and said okay, we got a massive movement. Three, four, five million refugees, how are we gonna solve this as a world? It didn't happen, and we need to move to a situation where that occurs, and we gotta keep workin' on it. That's one of the projects I've been working on with a number of others to try to move us in that direction.
Dan Feinberg: Thank you. We have a question from Ava, who definitely does not have any gray hair.
Ava: Alright, hi. I mean I think what you, thank you so much for your talk and for making the time for this really important discussion. I'm actually a current student at Swat, I'm a senior, class of 19. You kinda already answered where I was going, but I had kind of a larger question about your outlook for resettlement and for refugees I asked. Given the cuts of the resettlement program, where should we look next? Should advocates pressure the Trump Administrations to rebuild the resettlement program, or is the solution, quote unquote, to the refugee problem elsewhere? You've just spoke a bit about that, but I was wondering if the resettlement program is rebuilt or not, do you think that's gonna have a huge impact on US leadership in terms of refugee issues and the refugee program in general?
Alex Aleinikroff: Yeah, that's a good, I'm sorry.
Ava: Inconsequential, basically,
Alex Aleinikoff: Yeah, no I think it can be rebuilt. Again, these, the numbers of refugees coming in every year is set by the president. So, a new president can put those numbers back up where they were in the Obama years. The money is there from Congress to resettle people. So I think that can be rebuilt, but I think this really is a place for popular action, it seems to me. There's one program I thought we could, that I would love actually, a movement among college campuses. Which was, so the Canadians, by the way, Canada, a country 1/10 our size now will take in more refugees in the last couple years, than the US which is incredible to me. The new Prime Minister came in Trudeau and said we're gonna fly planes, and bring in Syrians, and he did, and they got to 25,000 more than the US did last year. But the Canadians also have a private sponsorship system where groups of three, four, five people get together and say we will sponsor in a refugee and take care of them, and agree to be responsible for them for a year or two. I thought I'd work with some people, we didn't quite get this off the ground, but I thought we could have launched kind of a popular movement in this country of people saying we'll be happy to sponsor refugees in. If we put out a call saying how many Americans will be willing to take in a refugee into their home for the next six months, I think you'd get 10 million people saying they'd be willing to do that. I think you can.
Laura McKee: So Alan Seminat, of class of 76 actually, had put the comment out that his church has taken in two families in sanctuary, and is curious about whether the sanctuary movement received traction in policy, but included in his comments that these families have not left the church for months.
Alex Aleinikroff: Yeah, sanctuary deals with a slightly, I don't know if these were asylum seekers or people who were here in undocumented status, but again that's another, there is a sanctuary movement in the United States. It goes back, it was actually started by Quakers in the Central American difficulties in the 80's for people coming across the southwest border. There's now a new sanctuary movement. That's been a, I didn't even mention that's been another target of the Trump Administration. These so-called sanctuary cities, these sanctuaries. But again, that's another way to show support for refugees, but then you're right, you're maybe at a church for a long time. But anyway, the end of my last point was that there really could be a movement, it seems to me, for a private sponsorship program in the United States, and the argument would be this doesn't cost the government anything because they would be paid for by US taxpayers. I can imagine, at one point I was worried if that went forward it would lead to a cut in the numbers being brought in by the government, but now since those numbers are so low anyway, it might be time, seriously, to think about a real movement towards, and we have this very good model in Canada at the moment.
Dan Feinberg: Thank you, yeah well I just, I'd appreciate your talking about an example of Canada very personally, because none of my grandparents were born in this country, and when their families integrated from Eastern Europe, three out of four couldn't get into the United States. Three of my grandparents actually ended up in Canada and only later moved to Detroit. So, the better example of Canada has been around for 100 years. We had a question, someone wanted to know what could be done to really get more traction with the message that immigrants have a net economic, or a net economic gain for this country? People seem to think that immigrants are nothing but a drain on resources, but really they contribute much more than they take.
Alex Aleinikoff: These numbers are out there, and anyone who wants to look and find them. The problem is, I think we're in the situation now where the facts don't matter. They just don't matter. People saying build the wall, finish the wall, cheering at the saliency of this issue for many Republican voters now, is so high that the facts just don't matter. The salient, the facts, it's just a big lie that the southwest border is out of control and people are flooding across, and criminals are coming. The data is very clear that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than Americans but those facts are out there. You know, the Washington Post does this Pinocchio test and Trump is given four Pinocchio's on what he says about migrants, but this is not what's motivating things now. I think the scariest part of this is the element of white nationalism that is in the middle of this anti-immigrant movement in this country now. It doesn't mean that all people who are question, or the immigration policy in the past, are white nationalists, but there certainly is a very strong element one can link an awful lot of what's going on with the administration with this idea that we should not be allowing large numbers of people in the country who are gonna affect the demographic make-up of this country. These people are dangerous, they're freeloaders or they undercut our working wages, it sounds an awful lot like what was going on in the 1880's when the Chinese exclusion laws were adopted due to pressure out west. Once you're into that realm, facts don't matter. What matters here are elections. It matters to, you know, and that's really what the Democratic victories in the Congressional elections, why they mattered so much. Trump had made that, his issue was the caravan, and it failed. And the Americans showed that, that wasn't their big issue. Their issue was tax policy, or healthcare policy, or something else and the House flipped. I think, short of electoral change here, so I think that this is a question of political organization more than it is of getting these facts out.
Dan Feinberg: Yes, well, and certainly there's gotta be a connection between the voting tendencies of immigrant groups and the political parties views on refugees and immigration, since there's a pretty clear voting pattern for most immigrant groups to go Democratic as opposed to Republican.
Alex Aleinikoff: Except Cubans.
Dan Feinberg: They are the exception that proves the rule. We had somebody also asking you to speak about sanctuary policies that are happening in the local level and state legislation trying to take action, federal action too, against sanctuary cities and states.
Alex Aleinikoff: Well a number of cities have said that, they're are two different things. Sanctuaries and churches are one thing, and that really stops ICE, the immigration enforcement guys, from coming in and taking people out. What cities have done is adopted policies saying they won't cooperate with federal efforts to enforce the law. Now, cities can't stop the federal authorities from operating in the cities. New York City can't stop ICE from doing it's work in the city, but they can say we're not gonna cooperate. We're not gonna ask the status of people when we hand out benefits, when someone's in jail we're not gonna ask if they're are immigrant and then turn them over to ICE when they're done, et cetera. So that's been the main way, and there's a fight about whether or not the states can do that or whether they have to answer a request from the federal government. So far, the states have been winning on this. The federal government tried to punish cities that were taking these positions by cutting off funding and one court has ruled that that was impermissible the way they did it. So that's where we are now.
Dan Feinberg: Someone noted that Swarthmore has been very active in the sanctuary movement, and that Swarthmore is a sanctuary campus. So, I'm in California which is certainly.
Alex Aleinikoff: Yeah so there's a risk about campuses declaring themselves sanctuary campuses, actually, that people should be aware of in the sense that, I think it's a terrific statement. It shows solidarity with people, but to the extent, to the extent, it can be understood by non-citizens in the population that the college can actually prevent authorities from undertaking actions. It can't. So people have to be clear when they say they're a sanctuary campus that it's an issue of solidarity, it's not a blanket protection against what the government can do here, so it just has to be done with come caution.
Dan Feinberg: Yes, alright well we're getting to the end of our time, but we have time for one more question, which is we have somebody wanting to know whether there's been a study about outcomes for refugees who remain in the country they first flee to, versus those who get resettled elsewhere?
Alex Aleinikoff: Well there's been a lot of work on that. The problem is that in most of the countries people flee to are the countries that had trouble taking care of their own citizens. So they don't offer the kind of support that they're offered in resettlement countries in the global north. A lot of aid may come in through the international community, but frequently, obviously the schools, the health service, everything else will not be anything like the resettlement countries. More importantly, many of these countries, most countries don't permit refugees to work because they see it as competing with the local citizens. So, this creates, I've called this in some things that I've written, the second exile. What I mean by that is, the first exile is when people flee their country, and the second exile is being stuck in these long standing refugee situations in countries of first asylum, where they can't work, where they don't get much aid, or they live in marginal situations. Most of them live in camps, actually, very marginal surroundings and cannot get their lives restarted in any kind of meaningful way. So, it means there's gotta be a lot more money going into these host states, but it also means that people have to be brought out of these host states through a global responsibility sharing system, which will treat people much better.
Dan Feinberg: Alright, thank you.
Laura McKee: Yeah, thank you so much, Alex, for sharing all your expertise, and thanks to all of the 64 participants for asking such good questions and participating. We apologize if we didn't get to your particular question, it's just that there was so much going by the screen here. So, hopefully we'll be able to engage in more conversations like this, as we roll out more Swat talks. The Alumni Council is committed to finding more presenters and to offering these throughout the year. So, if you have a suggestion, please do contact Lisa Shafer in the alumni office or any of the alumni council members and let us know who you'd like to hear from. Alex, thank you so much for taking the time. We really greatly appreciate it, and I'm sure everyone could learn more from your podcast, Tempest Tossed. So, everybody be sure to, you know, click and like and do all those social media things.
Alex Aleinikoff: Well thanks for the opportunity and I must say, there were an awful lot of questions and I wish we had more time, but I did see a number of my classmates online, and I wanted to give a shout-out to all of them who logged in here. It's great to see you all even just virtually.
Laura McKee: You all have a big reunion coming up, don't you?
Alex Aleinikoff: Yeah, I guess so.
Laura McKee: Another round number, well and actually, am I allowed to give breaking news, Lisa? Cause I saw that Archer Dodson Heinzen is dialed into this call and this is late breaking news, the alumni council has chosen her for our award of the Arabella Carter Recognition Award from the Alumni Council, and that'll be presented at your reunion this summer, so we're all very excited about that. Very, you know, very apropos of your discussion today. Her work has centered on women of El Salvador and Guatemala for the last 25 years. She's helped build economic sustainability and reliance there, which has gotta help with a refugee crisis if you're creating a better environment for them in their home country. So, kudos to Archer Dodson Heinzen and thanks to your class of 74 for representing.
Alex Aleinikoff: Great.
Dan Feinberg: Thank you.
Laura McKee: Alright, thanks everybody. Have a great evening.
Alex Aleinikoff: Bye, bye.
Dan Fienberg: Bye, bye.