A QUIRKY THING about government programs is that, in addition to costs, there are benefits, the latter of which may also include revenue. Yet in the case of U.S. refugee programs, xenophobes seeking an upper hand in the Trump administration have covered up half the ledger.
A report ordered up by President Trump in March, and produced by officials in July, concluded that refugees had delivered $63 billion more in federal, state and local tax revenue than they had cost in federal benefits through the decade ending in 2014. According to the New York Times, however, the administration sent the report back for a redo, insisting that any mention of revenue be dropped. The Department of Health and Human Services obliged in a final, three-page report this month, which concluded that per-person departmental program costs for refugees were $3,300, compared with a per-person cost of $2,500 for the U.S. population as a whole.
That’s not exactly a shocker. Refugees, by definition legal immigrants, tend to be poor or penniless. As the report from Health and Human Services says, they naturally draw more heavily on the department’s programs, particularly in their first four years of residency. The fact that they pay more in taxes than they draw in benefits cuts against the administration’s spin and, according to the Times, was suppressed by Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s nativist senior policy adviser.
Mr. Miller is leading the charge to slash the number of refugees admitted in the fiscal year starting in October, below even the cap of 50,000 that Mr. Trump imposed this year — itself the lowest number in more than 30 years. (Before leaving office, President Barack Obama had set this year’s target at 110,000.) In addition to his general dislike of immigration, Mr. Miller sees refugees in particular as a terrorist threat and a fiscal burden. The fact that there’s extremely little historical evidence of the former, and that the latter is demonstrably false, doesn’t interest him — or Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday told the U.N. General Assembly that it would be much cheaper for Washington to send money for refugees rather than resettle them in the United States.
Refugee policy is not like a choice between leasing a car and buying one, and Mr. Trump’s policy analysis is preposterous. This country was settled by refugees; it has been a beacon for refugees for its entire history. Even now, despite the Trump administration’s inhospitable demeanor, it remains the aspirational destination for millions of people worldwide, especially in the most violent, repressive and hopeless places. The list of refugees who have ennobled and inspired the United States is too long to recount here, but consider just a few names: Madeleine Albright. Albert Einstein. Gloria Estefan. Henry Kissinger. Vladimir Nabokov. Billy Wilder.
At a moment when the world is awash in refugees — the United Nations has asked countries to resettle 1.2 million of them — it would be not just callous for Washington to turn its back on them. It would be an act of national redefinition and an abdication of leadership. Rather than making America great again, it would do the very opposite by making the country small, peevish, inward-looking and heedless of its role on the global stage.
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