Mary Poole, Soft Landing Missoula


Here in Montana, a mother, safe after a years-long flight from her war-flattened country, practices English, works a low-end job, and shepherds her kids to and from school. Yes, these future U.S. citizens are safe and welcome, because Montanans have made it so, with open hearts. But her husband, waiting in a refugee camp, may never make it here, because the doors are closing.

The Trump administration has floated the idea of admitting zero refugees next year, including those who have already cleared all hurdles. The president has until Sept. 30 to set the actual ceiling, but it likely won’t be this year’s 30,000 (with maybe 24,000 actually settled), far below an average of 95,000 refugees per year since 1980, when resettlement began. More than 300 refugees have been resettled in Missoula since 2016.

Throttling refugee admissions also breaks a promise to Iraqis and Afghans who put their lives on the line to interpret for American troops. Banning refugees in the midst of a global refugee crisis is only one facet of the administration’s crackdown on immigrants. Other planks of this policy include:

  • A growing rule-book full of curbs on asylum-seekers, who are refugees from violence and persecution, too.
  • Cruel separation of families and squalid detention conditions.
  • A “public charge” rule that punishes immigrants for using the benefits that will help them become productive citizens and puts families at risk of declining health and nutrition.

These nativist policies cut against our core American values:

Where are kindness, compassion and generosity? We see meanness and a crabbed spirit that caters to resentment and a bygone America of the 1950s.

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Where are fairness, justice and the opportunity to make it in this vast, rich land? We see walls, barriers, and midnight raids. Above all, we see closed minds, closed to the economic imperative of immigration and closed to the memory of millions of immigrants who have helped build this country.

Where, above all, is pluralism, e pluribus unum, out of many (races, creeds, points of view) one nation indivisible? We see chasms, self-interest and a failure of leadership. While our immigration history certainly is blemished, we aspire to be a place of opportunity for all.

As justification for zero refugee admissions, we hear the argument that resources must be diverted to asylum-seekers at our southern border. It makes no sense to cite the chaos caused by incompetence and unpreparedness to choke refugee resettlement, in which vetting and processing is done before people arrive in the U.S. Our capacity to resettle refugees should not be affected by the asylee situation.

Zero admissions will force resettlement agencies to close or pare way back, making it much more difficult to gear up when refugees are once more admitted. But we believe that support for refugees, cultivated in the hundreds of communities in which they have planted new roots, will continue to thrive. People know their new neighbors are good, honest, hard-working folks whose sacrifices are inspiring and whose will to succeed will never be defeated. We are a nation of refuge, not rejection.

Contact Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester and urge them to support the GRACE Act (Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement), which sets an annual refugee admissions floor — not ceiling — of 95,000.

Ask why we have broken our pledge to resettle those who helped our troops. Demand fairness for asylum seekers and permanent residents seeking a fair shot at citizenship. Show that we Montanans are committed to the principles and values upon which this nation was founded, and that we expect all our elected representatives to embrace those values.

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Mary Poole, executive director of Soft Landing Missoula, writes on behalf of its board of directors.


Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.