Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked World Refugee Day Wednesday with a statement “commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide” as the Trump administration continues to defend its policy of separating children from parents who bring them into the U.S. illegally seeking asylum.
“We join the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and our international partners in commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and conflict,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States will continue to be a world leader in providing humanitarian assistance and working to forge political solutions to the underlying conflicts that drive displacement.”
The secretary of state’s statement comes amid boiling outrage directed at the Trump administration over its policy of prosecuting everyone who enters the U.S. illegally, a practice that has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents after crossing into the U.S. Outcry has risen in recent days, fueled by images of children kept in cages and audio of them crying and wailing after being separated from their parents.
Many of those seeking asylum in the U.S. are migrants from Central American nations where violence is nearly ubiquitous and criminal gangs exert significant control.
Asylum seekers who enter the U.S, and make their claim legally at a port of entry are not subject to arrest and separation, only those who cross the border illegally. There have been some reports, however, of families separated after they seek asylum at legal ports of entry.
That the State Department is not involved with the separation policy, a point spokeswoman Heather Nauert made Tuesday at her press briefing, has not shielded it from criticism. During a department-hosted Facebook live chat on traveling with children, the hosts were inundated with criticism and sarcastic comments from viewers, such as "do you recommend cage training for children to get them used to arriving in the US?"
Pompeo, in his Wednesday statement, touted America’s significant commitment to humanitarian assistance abroad, totaling $8 billion in fiscal year 2017. He made specific mention of U.S. efforts in Burma and Bangladesh, as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Pompeo wrote that “the United States also maintains a steadfast commitment to getting life-saving support to Syrians wherever they are.”
Trump has pushed hard to dramatically limit the number of refugees the U.S. accepts and has sought to ban all Syrians, refugee or otherwise, from entering the U.S. for security reasons.
“Through active humanitarian diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and tireless efforts to end conflicts and achieve durable solutions for persecuted people around the world, we will continue to help the world’s most vulnerable refugees, reflecting the deeply held values of the American people,” Pompeo said in his statement.
Refugees International, a non-profit that advocates for refugees around the world, issued the Trump administration an "F" on its World Refugee Day report card.
"The Trump administration has undermined U.S. refugee law and longstanding U.S. humanitarian policy through the inhumane separation of families seeking asylum, weakening of the U.S. asylum process generally, and crippling of the U.S. Refugee Admissions program," the group wrote. "Overseas, President Trump has sought to restrict lifesaving humanitarian aid, including aid to refugee women and girls, and failed in leadership to end conflicts that inflict humanitarian suffering."
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