The United States must continue to support refugee resettlement programs and welcome displaced people into the country, Denis McDonough (GRD ’96), former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, said at a conference in Copley Lounge on Nov. 13.
McDonough served as chief of staff to Obama from 2013 until 2016 and, before that, served as the U.S. deputy national security adviser from 2010 until 2013.
The event inaugurated the Global Refugee and Migration Project, a program led by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and the Institute for the Study of International Migration to develop migration policy recommendations. The project seeks to create opportunities for students and activists to develop approaches to policy recommendations related to international migration, said Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia in his introduction to the event.
Despite opposition from President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States should continue its use of refugee resettlement programs, which were initiated when Congress passed the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980, McDonough said. Since 1980, the United States has accepted about 3 million refugees.
“We also know that providing resources isn’t enough,” McDonough said. “These states need to see that care of refugees is a key U.S. priority and the best way for us to show that is to resettle some refugees here.”
Resettling refugees in the country is in the United States’ interest, McDonough said.
“We have not only benefitted from an infusion of remarkable talent from those 3 million refugees and their families, but we’ve garnered international burden sharing for the cost of this massive challenge and have mitigated regional conflicts in broader expansion, which are in our interests, without a doubt,” McDonough said.
The Trump administration’s proposed plans to cut funding for refugee programs mark a shift in U.S. migration policy from past administrations, according to McDonough.
“The United States has long distinguished itself as the world’s largest donor to refugee programs,” McDonough said. “In each of the first two years of this administration, however, the White House has proposed we cut funding for these activities, not increase them.”
The Trump administration will likely not increase funding for refugee resettlement programs, according to McDonough.
“It may just be that we have to wait out the president to get back to the kind of resettlement numbers that we all think are so important,” McDonough said.
Climate change will only increase migration and the number of displaced people, especially in Africa, McDonough said, referencing an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that cautioned that an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius from preindustrial temperatures could have catastrophic consequences.
“We can clearly anticipate that changes in the climate will have a pronounced impact on migration particularly in Africa,” McDonough said. “Just as the intense impacts of climate that the international climate scientists warned of in the IPCC report last month knew, the combination of poverty, dependence on agriculture, environmental degradation and population growth are creating a vicious circle, which can be expected to translate into increasing forced migration.”
Climate change will disproportionately affect poorer people and countries, according to McDonough.
“Those forced to move will be the poorest, most vulnerable, as farming becomes less productive, water more scarce and housing washed away by more dramatic weather and rising sea levels,” McDonough said.
The parts of the world that take in the most migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are often the least prepared to do so, according to McDonough.
“Time and time again, the poorest and least developed countries have hosted such enormous refugee populations and have often done so during times of sudden crisis and mass migration when states have welcomed refugees on short notice, with little certainty that resources or international support will come,” McDonough said.
Citizens in the United States need to continue to advocate for refugees and immigrant rights, McDonough said.
“Keep making your argument across the full range of argumentation that we have, moral and religious grounds, national security and general security grounds, and then historical and traditional grounds, and keep making that case,” McDonough said.