GREENSBORO — A coalition of faith leaders, resettlement groups and others said at a news conference Tuesday that the city should continue to welcome and support the thousands of refugees who come to this country after being forced to leave their native lands.
The groups spoke out against a recent proposal from the Trump administration that would drastically cut the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States in the upcoming year from 30,000 — already a record low — to 18,000.
The White House also issued an executive order that states and localities must provide written consent before refugees can be resettled.
The president is required to set the cap with input from Congress, which might push back for a higher total.
Still, the move continues the Trump administration’s effort to limit the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. — some in the White House have suggested that no one should be admitted at all — and further diminishes the nation’s resettlement program, which was started in 1980 to give those fleeing war and persecution a new home.
Each year, the administration establishes a cap for how many refugees the country will resettle. Historically, the number of admissions has fluctuated according to world events — such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — but they’ve generally been high.
During President Barack Obama’s final year in office, 110,000 refugees were allowed into the country.
However, that number has fallen dramatically during the Trump administration. After taking office in 2017, he set the cap at 50,000. He lowered it to 45,000 in fiscal 2018 and then to 30,000 in fiscal 2019.
Trump officials have suggested that refugees pose a potential security risk. But former intelligence officials and experts studying refugee populations disagree, saying there is no evidence to support that.
On Tuesday at noon, a number of speakers stood on the steps of City Hall and implored state and local leaders to pressure federal officials to reconsider their stance.
“We will not be gatekeepers that will close these gates,” said the Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, who praised refugees for their contributions to Greensboro and pledged community support. “We will stand with you and fight, fight, fight till this ends.”
City Council member Michelle Kennedy said Trump’s executive order is “constitutionally suspect” and “blatantly discriminatory.” She added that Mayor Nancy Vaughan will be traveling to Uganda in December to “try to come to a deeper understanding of the refugee experience.”
One Ugandan refugee addressed the crowd of about 60 on Tuesday.
David Ssesanga said he fled the African country after facing persecution and death threats. He then spent three years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States.
He called the proposed reduction “very, very sad,” given what he’s seen of refugees contributing to communities in the United States and of grim circumstances in refugee camps.
“Some of my friends, they have died,” said Ssesanga, who lives in Greensboro and works as an electrical technician. “They are dying like cockroaches. They are dying like people who have got no hope.”