I'm a Former Assistant Secretary of State. Yesterday I was Arrested Protesting Secretary Pompeo's Policies on Refugees

Yesterday, I was one of 18 protestors arrested in front of the U.S. Capitol Building to call attention to Trump Administration moves to shut down a lifesaving program for refugees. As the former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, I never expected to risk arrest protesting a current Secretary of State. But I decided to take this bold stand because the Trump Administration seeks to destroy not just a Federal program, but an American tradition of serving as a sanctuary for the threatened and persecuted that stretches back to the Pilgrims. If the Administration succeeds, it harms some of the most vulnerable people on earth—and the rest of us, too.

The demonstration was held just a few short hours before Secretary Pompeo met with Congress, as required by law, before finalizing this year's refugee admissions cap—18,000—the lowest cap in the history of the resettlement program. That was the significance of 18 people getting arrested; each represented 1000 refugees we might take.

Since the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) was authorized by Congress in 1980, the United States has set an average refugee cap of 95,000 refugees each year. But President Trump has made drastic cuts. In 2018 he set a cap of 45,000, followed by a cap of 30,000 this past year—each a historic low. And then just weeks ago, he set the cap for 2020 at 18,000—an 80 percent cut from the average. At that low rate, the resettlement program will barely continue to exist.

In four decades, we have welcomed refugees from Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, Rwanda, Sudan, Burma, Iraq, Syria, and the list continues. Overwhelmingly law abiding and grateful for the fresh start our country offers, refugees have contributed to the U.S. economy, as they work hard, pay taxes, and start businesses.

The program has always had bipartisan support, since policymakers on both sides of the aisle understand that by resettling refugees, the United States serves as a moral leader and annually renews a promise on which our country was founded. Resettlement also supports U.S. foreign policy interests, including the fragile regional stability in the Middle East. Supporting the countries that host refugees through investment, humanitarian aid, and resettlement is essential as globally more than 70 million people are displaced, including more than 26 million refugees. By taking in some refugees, the U.S. can encourage other countries to keep their doors open and allow refugees to work and refugee children to attend school. That's key to mitigating conflict, restoring dignity to those who've fled and ensuring a future for millions of young people.

But the numbers aren't the whole story. Trump policies will have alarming long-term consequences. The administration will no longer rely on the UN Refugee Agency to identify and refer some of the neediest cases to us. The administration hasn't planned any "circuit rides"—the trips when officers from the Department of Homeland Security travel to interview refugees abroad to determine if they qualify. And already we see the network of faith-based and non-profit agencies that help refugees across America closing offices, turning away staff and volunteers and severing longstanding ties with landlords and employers willing to take a chance on energetic workers who, while legal, have no credit history or local references. These measures are shutting down a carefully constructed refugee pipeline and will make it harder for the United States to resettle more refugees in the future.

And that means a lot more heartbreak for refugees in harm's way and for families waiting to be reunited - including those who are already screened and approved and who we've promised to protect. I've met some of those refugees awaiting safety. I know some of those mothers waiting to hold their children again. I can't continue to read story after story of people who are suffering - some even dying - because this administration has unilaterally decided we are done being a nation of refugees and immigrants.

That's why I got arrested yesterday. Because the refugee resettlement program is worth it. Resettlement saves lives and is key to U.S. foreign policy interests. Refugees contribute to the U.S. economy and become powerful ambassadors of the American dream. I can't stand idly by as the legacy of refugee resettlement is destroyed. Whether on the Capitol steps or in your hometown, I hope you will join us in calling on Congress and the White House to protect refugee resettlement in America.

Anne C Richard teaches at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration and Hamilton College. She was Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration (2012-17.)

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.