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Evangelical Leaders ‘Deeply Concerned’ Over Historically Low Refugee Resettlement Cap

A wide range of both conservative and liberal evangelical organizations have expressed concern over immigration limits recently announced by the Trump administration.

Last week the administration announced the maximum number of refugees it plans to admit into the United States in the coming year—and once again, it is a historic low: 15,000.

In the weeks leading up to the announcement, several evangelical organizations involved in refugee resettlement had asked the administration to raise that number to its past average: 95,000.

“As evangelicals, we believe in the God-given dignity of every person in every nation. We also believe God calls us to love the foreigner and the stranger. Today, that means loving the refugee in our country who has fled violence and persecution in their own country,” leaders said in a joint statement from the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a bipartisan advocacy group seeking immigration reform.

Signatories to the statement, which said the group was “deeply concerned” about the historically low refugee cap, include Walter Kim of the National Association of Evangelicals and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The Evangelical Immigration Table was formed around six principles as a foundation for immigration reform. Signatories of those principles include Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Rick Ryan of Convoy of Hope, and Ed Stetzer of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.

“The United States cannot ignore the needs of displaced people around the world,” the EIT statement said. “We urge the Administration to return the refugee resettlement limit to historical levels so America can continue to be the beacon of liberty for all.”

The Trump administration sent notice of the new refugee ceiling to Congress just 34 minutes before the statutory deadline on Wednesday (Sept. 30), according to The Associated Press.

The administration is required by law to consult with Congress before setting the presidential determination for the fiscal year, which begins in October, but he failed to do so. “We are calling for these obligations to be met so refugee resettlement can resume,” the EIT stated.

This year’s proposed refugee ceiling is a drop from 18,000 in the fiscal year that just ended in September. The U.S. actually resettled 11,814 refugees in that time, according to LIRS, and AP reported refugee resettlement was halted in March amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump had set that number at 45,000 in his first year in office, then 30,000 and 18,000—each a historic low in the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which has been around since the 1980s.

“This drastic drop in refugee numbers should embarrass and dismay us, given the stakes. Our nation has a great tradition as a beacon of liberty to those fleeing for their lives from terror and tyranny,” said ERLC’s Russell Moore. “Persecuted Christians, and others, will be harmed by this closed door. Obviously, we cannot take in unlimited numbers of refugees, but the dwindling number of those we do take is far below the level where America could and should be in leading the world in compassion for those in peril.

“As Christians, we should stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the persecuted church, and for our other neighbors who are likewise in harm’s way,” he said.

Last week, Trump delivered a speech in Duluth, Minnesota, claiming his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, “will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp…overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating your hospitals.” He also claimed Biden wants to increase refugee resettlement by 700 percent.

Biden said in a statement released on World Refugee Day in June that he would increase the refugee ceiling to 125,000, which would be about a 700 percent increase.

The number Biden has proposed is not much higher than the 110,000 it was during former President Barack Obama’s last term in office, when Biden was vice president.

“Our country has served as a land of hope, security and opportunity for many who found little in their own places,” said Walker Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “The precipitous reduction of refugees undermines the symbol and substance of America’s stature as a land of liberty. As an expression of their faith, churches and Christian agencies are ready to welcome and assist these vulnerable people. In turn, refugees prove not to be a drain on our social resources, but sources of great vitality.”

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the largest faith-based organization in the U.S. dedicated to serving immigrants, is one of the organizations that asked the Trump administration to return the number of refugee admissions to a historic average of at least 95,000, with signatures from 200 clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

World Relief encouraged evangelical Christians to ask the same of their elected officials, and LIRS sent a letter to Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accompanied by the signatures of nearly 250 clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“Our nation’s once pristine reputation as a place of refuge for the oppressed and persecuted of all faiths has been gravely damaged,” LIRS President and CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said in a written statement.

The work of helping refugees find a home in America is largely done by faith-based organizations. Of the nine groups authorized by the U.S. government to resettle refugees, six claim a religious affiliation: HIAS, World Relief, Church World Service, LIRS, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Episcopal Migration Ministries.

Emily McFarlan Miller contributed to this report.

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.