President Donald Trump will likely butt heads with world leaders as he attends his first G7 summit Friday. But Trump will arrive having already shelved one critical topic of contention: Efforts to prioritize the global refugee crisis will not take center-stage at the summit, despite the tragic deaths of at least 34 refugees on Wednesday, the majority of them toddlers.
Instead, the Trump administration reportedly wants the summit to prioritize countering extremism and implementing tougher immigration policies — a far cry from aiding refugees and finding a solution to the crisis.
The decision to pivot away from refugee issues reportedly stems from Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who was also the primary architect of the administration’s Muslim ban.
The G7 summit brings together leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Italy, Germany, and France. Held in Taormina, Sicily, the two-day summit’s location served a clear opportunity to raise discussion about the refugee crisis playing out across the region — the worst the world has seen since World War II.
As Foreign Policy reports, Italy had hoped to use the meeting as an opportunity to reach an agreement on resettling refugees, finding them new homes, and easing the burden off of the countries disproportionately affected by the current crisis. Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni met with Trump on Wednesday in Rome in an effort to convince the United States to accept more refugees and provide more financial support for resettlement.
But U.S. officials told Foreign Policy that European desires for a greater U.S. role in refugee efforts were out of the question.
“The president of the United States has campaigned on certain principles and he will not abandon those just because another country wishes we would have a different policy,” an official told the publication. “We are not forcing our policy on others, but they shouldn’t try to force theirs on us.”
Fleeing war and violence in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of South and Central Asia, refugees have arrived by the thousands in Europe over the course of the past few years. Italy in particular has seen staggering numbers appear on its shores, many having attempted the dangerous voyage by sea from Libya. Around 1,300 people alone are believed to have died trying this year, with more than 50,000 saved by rescue workers.
Wednesday’s events were a bleak reminder of how perilous the attempt can be, especially for the most vulnerable. Chris Catrambone, co-founder of Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), emphasized on Twitter that the majority of the bodies his organization had recovered Wednesday were of very young children.
Body Count now at 34…Most are toddlers pic.twitter.com/FlQ0V6PliA
— Chris Catrambone (@cpcatrambone) May 24, 2017
But tragedies like Wednesday’s don’t seem to have affected the Trump administration’s hardline stance toward refugees, as well as toward immigration issues more generally.
While immigration policy is typically the realm of national security experts, the State Department is plagued by staff vacancies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also proven uninterested in refugee issues — leaving domestic advisers like Miller in a much more powerful position.
But Miller holds hardline Islamophobic and xenophobic views that have shaped his approach to public policy. As a college student, he referred to multiculturalism as “segregation,” a view he seems to have carried into his professional life. Prior to his role in the Trump administration, Miller worked for then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), playing a key role in opposing bipartisan immigration reform. As a member of the Trump administration, he has continued to push for a crackdown on immigration, targeting Muslims in particular. His role in crafting the Muslim ban was widely documented, as was his inadvertent contribution to the legal challenges dogging its replacement. After a new executive order halting U.S. travel for citizens from Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Sudan (notably leaving out one of the original ban’s targets, Iraq) was announced, Miller told Fox News that the ban was essentially the same as its predecessor.
“One of the big differences that you are going to see in the executive order is that it is going to be responsive to the judicial ruling which didn’t exist previously,” he said. “And so these are mostly minor, technical differences. Fundamentally, you are still going to have the same, basic policy outcome for the country.”
Miller’s comments were among those cited by the U.S. District Court in Honolulu, Hawaii, which found that the second ban was riddled with the same constitutional issues plaguing the original.
Miller’s outsized influence on Trump’s first international trip as president has been evident. He penned Trump’s speech on Islam, which was delivered in Saudi Arabia and called for an end to “wicked ideology” and a purging of “foot soldiers of evil.”
Immigration won’t be the only topic stirring controversy at the G7 summit, which will conclude Trump’s first international trip as president. Trade and climate change will also pit Trump against his counterparts on a trip that has made many U.S. allies nervous.
In Brussels on Thursday, Trump lectured NATO allies on failing to “meet their financial obligations” and the need to step up in the fight against extremism. He also failed to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which guarantees countries will aid one another when under attack, and called Germans “very bad,” threatening to end car sales to the country.