A protest at the San Francisco International Airport against Donald Trump’s January 2017 executive order on immigration, January 28, 2017.

© 2017 Creative Commons/Daniel Arauz

Recently, Gary R. Herbert, the Republican governor for the US state of Utah, sent a letter to President Donald Trump saying Utah would like to sponsor more refugees because, “We empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life.” It was a refreshing appeal, recalling the country’s historically supportive approach toward refugee resettlement.

But that’s probably not the response Trump had in mind when he signed an executive order in September saying refugees would only be resettled in places where both state and local officials indicated in writing their willingness to receive refugees. The intent of that order, to undercut refugee resettlement, was underscored by the Trump administration lowering the annual refugee admissions cap to 18,000, the lowest annual ceiling in the nearly three-decade history of the US refugee resettlement program. In October, the first month of the new fiscal year, the number of refugees admitted to the United States reached a new low: zero.

“We know the need [for resettlement] has not decreased,” Governor Herbert’s letter said, “and are eager to see the number of admittances rise again.”

US support for refugees is longstanding and bipartisan. In the months following the fall of Saigon in 1975, President Gerald Ford, a Republican, admitted more than 130,000 Vietnamese refugees. Starting with the Refugee Act of 1980 and continuing for the next 37 years of Republican and Democratic administrations, the United States admitted more than 3 million refugees, an average of about 82,000 per year. When President Ronald Reagan said the US would “continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression,” he voiced sentiments that have been echoed in word and deed by every president of the modern era until Trump.    

In his letter, Governor Herbert wrote, “This marvelous compassion is simply embedded into our state’s culture.” Let’s hope governors of the other 49 US states share that compassion ­ and the courage ­ to tell President Trump the same.