The United States is withdrawing from U.N. efforts to craft more compassionate global refugee policies, part of President Trump’s ongoing “America First” approach to international relations.
In a statement released on Saturday evening, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. Mission to the United Nations had informed U.N. Secretary General António Guterres of the decision.
“America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our long-standing moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations across the globe,” Haley said. “No country has done more than the United States, and our generosity will continue. But our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country.”
The move withdraws the United States from the U.N. Global Compact on Migration, part of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants formed by a unanimous vote in 2016. The effort seeks to uphold the rights of migrants and refugees, in addition to aiding resettlement and job efforts. President Obama championed the declaration but Trump is steering the United States away from the endeavor.
“While we will continue to engage on a number of fronts at the United Nations, in this case, we simply cannot in good faith support a process that could undermine the sovereign right of the United States to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a statement Sunday.
“The United States supports international cooperation on migration issues, but it is the primary responsibility of sovereign states to help ensure that migration is safe, orderly, and legal,” he concluded.
World leaders expressed disapproval and dismay at the announcement, which is likely to impede global efforts to tackle a growing crisis.
“The role of the United States in this process is critical as it has historically and generously welcomed people from all across the globe and remains home to the largest number of international migrants in the world,” said U.N. General Assembly president Miroslav Lajčák.
He went on to say that U.S. expertise and experience is vital to solving the ongoing refugee crisis and that all U.N. member states should support the compact. “The United Nations should not miss this opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world,” he added.
As president, Trump has repeatedly targeted immigrants and refugees. Last April, the president issued an executive order cracking down on H-1B visas, work permits catering to highly-skilled and highly-educated immigrants. A few months later, Trump threw his support behind a bill seeking to cut annual immigration numbers in half — bringing numbers down from around a million to 500,000. In September, the White House announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a six-month delay, ending a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
Refugees have been a particular source of ire for the president. As a candidate, Trump repeatedly called refugees — the majority of them Syrians — “terrorists” and blamed them for incidents of violence domestically and abroad. Since taking office, the president’s rhetoric has escalated — as have his policies, many of which have been driven by hardline anti-immigration advocates like senior adviser Stephen Miller. Three separate versions of Trump’s travel ban have sought to bar all refugees, along with citizens from multiple predominately Muslim countries, from the United States. While the latest effort expired in October, an executive order signed by Trump introduced strict new screening measures.
As the United States accepts fewer refugees, their numbers are rising worldwide. Wars and conflict across the Middle East, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa and southern Asia have created the highest number of displaced persons since World War II. The global refugee population has also grown by more than 50 percent since 2013. According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, the United States took in 53,000 refugees in 2017 — down from 85,000 in 2016.
The Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the compact came in advance of a three-day global conference on migration, which begins Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The president reportedly decided on Friday that the United States would not attend the conference after top national security advisers seemingly decided against participating. Under Trump, the United States has withdrawn from a number of international efforts, including the cultural and science-driven UNESCO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the landmark Paris climate agreement.