Austin refugee advocates fighting against Trump Administration proposal
AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - "In recent years about 70 million displaced people in the world have fled their homes due to violence and persecution," said Erica Schmidt-Portnoy with Refugee Services of Texas.
Schmidt-Portnoy told the crowd at a Thursday morning press conference, America is at its strongest and greatest when we welcome and support families most in need of safety into our country.
Fille Kinyamahanga says her family was forced to leave the Congo in 2004. She's been living here in Austin since 2007.
"The only place that gives me hope, the only place that I call home is America," Kinyamahanga said.
The press conference: a response to recent actions by D.C. lawmakers affecting asylum-seekers, including a report that senior advisors to President Trump are recommending setting the refugee resettlement ceiling at zero.
"This is just a proposal by some in the administration, it is not official. That is why we felt the need to have this press conference right away," said Ayesha Hassan with Refugee Council U.S.A.
"Me hearing that there won't be any refugees coming, there are some girls or other kids my age who won't have the opportunity that I have right now," Kinyamahanga said.
Hassan points out the President has been slashing the annual number of allowed refugees already.
"The idea that we would welcome zero refugees in FY 2020 is honestly just unconscionable considering that there are already over 8,000 people that are ready and 30,000 people that are in the process right now," Hassan said.
On the other side of the issue: Igor Magalhaes, an Immigration Legislative Fellow at Texas Public Policy Foundation.
"We need to relieve the system so that we can be a safe haven for those who really need safe haven," Magalhaes said.
Magalhaes says his family came from Brazil on a visa and later became citizens. He says some people are taking advantage of the refugee system: shortcuts.
"A lot of them are able to stay in the country for long periods of time or even receive work permits to stay in the country. So that's big incentives for them to come into the country even if they don't have legitimate reasons for fleeing persecution, just so they can have economic opportunity in the United States," Magalhaes said.
Magalhaes says he wishes more would come to the U.S. through the legal process.
"The United States is a welcoming place, the United States needs workers from around the world, needs the best and brightest, needs people with unique abilities but we need to make sure that our sovereignty is not undermined, that we know who is here for our national security purposes, for economic purposes," Magalhaes said.
The group of refugee advocates are also speaking out against Senator Lindsey Graham's "Secure and Protect Act" of 2019 -- they say it will expand child detention and deportation of unaccompanied children.