Donald Trump's Election Day victory marked the conclusion of a dramatic presidential election that shook the country's political infrastructure to its very core. The journey on the proverbial road ahead, however, has just begun, and Trump must prepare to make decisions that have national and international consequences.
One issue, the ongoing refugee crisis, involves both.
Neither Trump nor his opponent Hillary Clinton provided a comprehensive plan for dealing with refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. The language from both camps leading up to the election, however, demonstrated two very different outlooks on the issue. Whereas Clinton indicated her willingness to increase the number of refugees that the U.S. accepts, Trump was adamant in his refusal to admit any and used that rhetoric to mobilize his supporters.
The most recent example was last Sunday during a campaign stop in Minneapolis, where he delivered a speech targeting Somali immigrants there. In particular, he referenced a stabbing attack committed by a Somali national at a mall in which ten people were injured in September. While no evidence directly linked the attacker to the Islamic State group, the militants also known as ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Trump took the opportunity to address the community's fears.
“Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world,” Trump said.
Trump's anti-refugee message has resounded with his conservative voters. During the vice presidential debate last month, Vice President-elect Mike Pence accused Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine of wanting "to increase the Syrian refugee program by 550 percent." This was somewhat accurate, given that Clinton has expressed her support to accept 65,000 refugees during the 2016 fiscal year.
Clinton felt the U.S. was not doing its part. Even the 550 percent jump to 65,000 refugees would make up less than .02 percent of the U.S. population. Trump's narrative contends that security concerns outweigh the humanitarian call to admit any refugees.
The U.S. has spent more than $5.6 billion in assistance toward those fleeing the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011 as an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It has since become a bloody battle that includes both national and international actors like the U.S. and Russia. The fallout of the conflict has caused the displacement of well over 10 million Syrians.
The United Nations has urged the U.S. to expand its refugee program. Countries with significantly smaller populations, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, have taken millions. Germany, Italy and Greece have also taken in more than a million people displaced by the Syrian conflict. But Trump has compared the potential threat of terrorists entering the country under the guise of refugees to a "Trojan Horse," which he has said represents a risk too great.
As proof, Trump has said, he points to terror attacks allegedly committed by refugees in Europe. Sunday marks the anniversary of last year's Islamic State group-coordinated attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. At least some of the perpetrators may have entered Europe posing as refugees. The prevalence of ISIS members among refugees is relatively small, but these fears have played into Trump's hand.
Currently, the U.S. has a comprehensive vetting process in place. While Clinton advocated for screening "as tough as it needs to be," Trump cast a wide net in past statements, including a proposal to suspend all Muslim immigration to the U.S. Despite accusations of Islamophobia, he has never withdrawn from the idea. However, he has since said he plans to "pause admissions from terror-prone regions of the world."
Trump further criticized Clinton's plan, calling it too costly and estimating it would set the nation back $400 billion. While this figure was likely overestimated, government spending has been a serious point of debate between both political parties and will remain so throughout Trump's presidency.
The cost of admitting refugees is difficult to calculate in actuality. While refugees receive assistance on federal, state and local levels, they are also allowed to work and are required to pay a lifetime of taxes. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has roughly estimated the short-term cost of each refugee at around $22,000. This figure, however, does not include the long-term impact a refugee will have as far as tax revenue and purchasing power.
After a hard-fought campaign, Trump's leadership skills will soon be put to the test as he attempts to resolve key issues, such as national debt, national security and immigration with no prior political background. The U.S.' handling of the Syrian refugee crisis concerns all of these major, sensitive topics. Trump's refusal to admit refugees, if he sticks to it, will likely have political repercussions worldwide.