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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The Trump administration is suppressing an internal executive branch report that found refugees admitted into the U.S. add billions to federal revenues, a conclusion that runs counter to White House chief policy adviser Stephen Miller’s anti-refugee narrative.

The suppressed report, which was leaked to the New York Times, was produced by the Department of Health and Human Services and “found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.”

News of the report’s suppression comes as the White House faces an October 1 deadline, the start of the next federal fiscal year, for determining how many refugees and political asylum seekers will be admitted over the next 12 months. Last February and March, Trump issued a series of executive orders imposing a travel ban on visitors from six majority Muslim countries and also cut the Obama administration’s refugee quota to 50,000 for 2017. While those decrees were challenged in court and mostly frozen—prompting an upcoming Supreme Court case—the open question is whether the administration will continue to clamp down on refugees, especially those from Muslim countries.

On Monday, the labor union representing 11,000 Department of Homeland Security employees who screen foreign refugees and asylum seekers filed a Supreme Court brief saying Trump’s decision to freeze the refugee program was ill-informed and contradicts our country’s heritage of admitting immigrants fleeing war and persecution. That filing contrasts with unions representing DHS border patrol and immigration enforcement that endorsed Trump’s candidacy during the 2016 election.

The Times report shows the White House is willfully ignoring and revising historical facts to suit its ideological agenda and immigration crackdown.

“The internal study, which was completed in late July but never publicly released, found that refugees ‘contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government’ between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes,” the Times notes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.”

The Times notes that the White House called these findings “illegitimate and politically motivated,” and contradicted by another statistical metric asserting, “the per-capita cost of a refugee is higher than that of an American.” White House spokesman Raj Shah said, “This leak was delivered by someone with an ideological agenda, not someone looking at hard data.”

But Shah’s assertion doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The factual history of Trump’s executive orders on the so-called Muslim travel ban and suspension of the refugee program shows a new administration hastily issuing poorly researched and vetted executive orders that a string of federal courts struck down as racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. The administration then issued a subsequent travel ban and appealed the lower court rulings, leading to this fall’s upcoming Supreme Court hearing on Trump’s decrees.

The Times report singled out Trump’s chief policy adviser, Stephen Miller, for censoring which data would and would not be included in the White House assessment of its refugee policy. Such historical revisionism—rewriting the past to impose an ideological agenda on the present and the future—is the hallmark of extreme authoritarian regimes, notes Thomas E. Ricks in his new book, Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom.

Here’s how the Times characterizes Miller’s totalitarian-style behavior: “Mr. Miller personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs—not any fiscal benefit—of the program be considered, according to two people familiar with the talks.”

The paper noted that the Dept. of Homeland Security, an arm of the executive branch, last week proposed a cap of 40,000 refugees for the 12-month period starting October 1. That amount of refugees would be “the lowest in more than three decades.”

The Times quotes Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, one of nine refugee resettlement agencies opposing the cut in admissions, who said Trump’s team wants to “destroy” the refugee and asylum programs.

“We see an administration that’s running a program that it’s intent on destroying,” he said. “We do have champions in the White House and in the administration, but they’re not being given a voice in this.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).