The Smear Campaign Against Ronald Mortensen

COMMENTARY Political Process

The Smear Campaign Against Ronald Mortensen

Jun 4th, 2018 3 min read

Commentary By

Hans A. von Spakovsky @HvonSpakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow

Ana Quintana

Senior Policy Analyst, Latin America and the Western Hemisphere

Last week the White House announced it will nominate Ronald Mortensen to head the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). eurobanks/Getty Images

Key Takeaways

A look at Mortensen’s career makes clear he’s an ideal candidate to run this arm of America’s engagement with the world.

The Trump administration correctly believes it is more effective to use the limited taxpayer funds to help overseas.

The administration’s critics, however, want ever-higher levels of refugee arrivals.

Last week the White House announced it will nominate Ronald Mortensen to head the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). With decades of experience in humanitarian assistance, diplomacy, and management, Mortensen is well qualified for the job. Yet the Left is rushing to its battle stations to try and stop his confirmation.

The State Department describes PRM’s mission this way: “to provide protection, ease suffering, and resolve the plight of persecuted and uprooted people around the world on behalf of the American people.” A look at Mortensen’s career makes clear he’s an ideal candidate to run this arm of America’s engagement with the world.

A 20-year veteran of the Foreign Service, Mortensen has labored to ease suffering on four continents. Working with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the U.S. Agency for International Development, he was sent to Haiti after the earthquake and went to west Africa to help fight the Ebola outbreak. He flew to Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in 2003 and has led disaster-assistance response teams there five times. Mortensen also has served in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Congo.

As he noted to a reporter, “saving lives and alleviating human suffering — what better job can there be?”

But overseeing the $3 billion–plus budget of PRM isn’t just a matter of humanitarianism. Mortensen — with a master’s degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in political science — also has what it takes to captain this ship. In addition to gaining extensive management experience while working for the government, Mortensen was director of human resources and international entry for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, an especially complex management puzzle given the stringent new visa security procedures that were set up after 9/11.

So where’s the controversy? Why are activists on the left so outraged?

As its name suggests, PRM manages refugee issues — both helping those abroad and resettling some in the U.S. What’s driving the Left’s smear campaign is a policy disagreement over the balance between these two approaches. The Trump administration correctly believes it is more effective to use the limited taxpayer funds available to help the greatest number of people, which means focusing on assistance overseas rather than the very costly process of resettling a relative handful of refugees in hard-pressed American communities.

The administration’s critics, however, want ever-higher levels of refugee arrivals. Many refugee-advocacy groups see the admission of more and more refugees as a kind of moral litmus test, despite the fact that each dollar spent on resettling a refugee in the U.S. could help care for twelve refugees abroad.

At their core, U.S. immigration and refugee programs must serve U.S. interests, support our allies, and help those in greatest need. That cannot happen without serious reforms to the status quo.

What should be a civil policy disagreement has turned into a smear campaign against Mortensen. The ACLU has falsely called him an “anti-immigrant zealot.” The Anti-Defamation League has defamed him with an erroneous claim that his supposedly “extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric” is “disqualifying.” And the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is “infamous for lumping mainstream conservative nonprofits alongside legitimate hate groups,” according to the Capital Research Center, has slammed Mortensen because of his connection to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a mainstream think tank the SPLC perversely labels a “hate group.”

What makes this last smear especially implausible is that Mortensen, in his work as a fellow at CIS, has written only on issues related to illegal immigration, not refugees. But this distinction is lost on those whose only recommendation on immigration and refugee resettlement is “More!” — even if it means helping fewer people.

At their core, U.S. immigration and refugee programs must serve U.S. interests, support our allies, and help those in greatest need. That cannot happen without serious reforms to the status quo.

This piece originally appeared in The National Review