Another Historically Low Commitment to Refugees

Faith Community Outraged by the Administration’s Devastation of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program

Diaz: “Trump administration is playing the role of persecutor, not protector”

Washington, DC – The Trump administration is proposing another historic low refugee admissions goal of 15,000 for FY 2021, according to the administration’s report to Congress. The administration violated U.S. law by not consulting with Congress on its refugee admissions goal before the start of the new fiscal year, and failing to sign a formal refugee admissions goal, also known as a “Presidential Determination” or PD, before the statutory deadline. This means that the resettlement program has ground to a halt, leaving refugees in harm’s way. Each day that resettlement is paused is a matter of life and death for the thousands of refugees waiting to rebuild their lives.

Faith leaders are outraged at the immorality on display by this administration. The faith community urges Congress to hold the administration accountable to urgently hold meaningful consultations in good faith, substantially increase the proposed refugee admissions goal to 95,000, in line with historic norms, and sign an official PD as soon as possible.

“Refugee resettlement saves lives,” said Elissa Diaz, Policy Advocate with Church World Service and Chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC). “The Trump administration is slamming the door on persecuted people during the worst displacement crisis in history, with 29.6 million refugees worldwide. They are leaving thousands of people in precarious, life-threatening situations. President Trump has already cut the U.S. refugee resettlement program by more than 80% — last year’s presidential determination was another historic low, 18,000 — and failed to meet even that. As people of faith, we cannot stand by as the United States turns its back on the world’s most vulnerable people. We call for the U.S. to welcome 95,000 refugees annually, back to our historic average. We also urge Congress to hold the administration accountable to conducting meaningful consultations and rebuilding the resettlement program, which has bipartisan support.”

Diaz added: “For Secretary Pompeo to say, at a religious freedom conference no less, that the United States is the ‘single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world’ is truly appalling. From these deadly cuts to the refugee program to the administration’s multitude of anti-asylum policies, the Trump administration is actually playing the role of persecutor, not protector.”

Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, the oldest refugee resettlement organization in the world, said: “This administration claims to stand up for the religiously persecuted and for law and order. But by failing, for the second year in a row, to consult with Congress and set an historically low resettlement goal, it has violated a statutory deadline, with very real consequences. This is unacceptable at any time, particularly during a global refugee crisis.”

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said: “What is the value of just one life? To God, we are all members of the precious creation. Therefore, God calls us to be beacons of light in this world. As a church who has participated in refugee resettlement for decades, we understand that ministries involved in resettlement is an extension of God’s mercy, justice, and love. Our siblings clamor for justice, and how do we respond? Let us not live out of fear but out of the abundance God has offered. Let us not give into rhetoric that strives to stronghold the walls of hostility and division that were torn down by Christ’s reconciling love. We must seek ways to find justice in the ‘halls of power’ as God works through all of us to transform a broken world. Let us work to keep refugee resettlement a strong and robust response to our broken world. Justice-making is God’s light shining.”

Refugees are valued members of U.S. communities. They work alongside native-born Americans to protect us all, serving on the frontlines of COVID-19 response, and are our family members, neighbors, and friends. There are 176,000 refugees working in healthcare, and another 175,000 who are part of the nation’s food supply chain. 

“The Christian Reformed Church has been advocating for refugees since the 1960s, and as a person of faith, this is how we live our faith. God’s word tells us to love him, and to love each other,” said Colin P. Watson Sr., Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. “God’s message is clear. No matter how different a person looks from me, or their experience differs from mine, I must care for them and protect them. This is a time for generosity, not selfishness. We are called to do even more. I also am an immigrant, and have seen the benefits of being resettled in a country that I have come to love deeply.”

“The Torah instructs us to welcome and love the stranger, va’ahavtem et ha-ger. This is repeated 36 times, far more often than any other Jewish law, stressing its importance to Jewish values,” said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women. “The current administration deciding to let only 15,000 refugees into our nation in 2021 is an affront to these values. We must restore the basic principle that has guided America since its founding: that our nation is a home for all seeking a better life. The National Council of Jewish Women has been working on issues of immigration for 127 years and we will not remain silent right now as the most vulnerable among us are in need. We urge the administration to immediately commit to welcoming refugees into America in 2021.”

The Trump administration is also using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to stop all refugee admissions. Yet the excuse rings hollow, as the United States has the largest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the world, making refugees more likely to contract the virus here than abroad. And, the administration has recklessly continued deportation flights while spreading the virus. 

“These policy decisions are shameful, cruel, and heartless,” Franciscan Action Network’s Stephen Schneck responded. “This administration again and again signals its disregard for the genuine humanitarian crisis facing refugees. It abandons long-standing precedent by administrations of both political parties going back decades, when the United States held out the open hand of welcome to the world’s desperate refugees. Now the desperate are spurned. Indeed, the administration is actively working against providing a path to protection, not only for UNHCR-designated refugees but also asylum seekers fleeing all forms of persecution and violence.”  

Rev. Terri Hord Owens, General Minister & President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said: “Slashing U.S. resettlement numbers to less than one fifth of our nation’s historic average is a moral travesty and offense to the sacred and repeated calls of our scriptures to welcome the vulnerable. Consequences upon refugee families already approved and awaiting travel are cruel. In this crisis moment, our hearts mourn for families seeking hope, and faith partners which have been a backbone of the bi-partisan, public-private partnerships that have sustained the U.S. refugee program will not stop voicing our belief in the benefits of refugees to our communities and congregations. Today’s slammed door must be reopened, for the sake of our nation’s heritage of hospitality.”

“The U.S. is shredding its values by setting an all-time low number of 15,000 refugees to enter the country in 2021,” said Ronnate Asirwatham, Director Policy & Advocacy with Bridges Faith Initiative, an interfaith organization that supports refugee integration in the U.S. “At this time of great need, when there are 26 million refugees in this world, the U.S. should lead by example and set a number that is worthy of the United States’ values of welcome,” she added 

“The United States is neglecting its legal and moral imperative to provide refuge to the most vulnerable, which is a slap in the face to Americans whose faith compels them to welcome the stranger,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, an organization that has resettled hundreds of thousands of refugees since 1939. “For an administration that professes the importance of religious freedom, its actions have been nothing short of hypocritical, as it slams the door on those whose lives are endangered simply because of how they worship.”  

“The Trump administration’s continuing dismantling of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic and continuing refugee crisis, is unconscionable. More than 26 million refugees, mostly children, have been forced from their homes. Fleeing persecution, they are quite literally running for their lives,” added Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director, LCWR. “The United States has a long history of welcoming refugees, and women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany refugee communities. We strongly object to President Trump’s attempts to limit our ability to heed the scriptural command to welcome the stranger and care for the foreigner. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious urges our government to act with compassion for those most in need and rebuild the U.S. refugee program.”

“The current failure of leadership by the United States on refugee resettlement is a tragedy, both for the moral stature of our society and for the vulnerable refugee families around the world who will acutely suffer if we continue to close our doors,” said Susan Gunn, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. “Maryknoll missioners overseas know the violence from which refugees flee and the conditions in which they are forced to live in refugee camps. When we deny refugees welcome, they remain in danger. We urge the Trump administration to consider the value refugees bring to our society as well as our nation’s duty to be a refuge for those in need. May we choose mercy and compassion by revitalizing the U.S. refugee program as soon as possible.”

“The Trump Administration’s failure to comply with the Refugee Act and their subsequent delays and cuts to the refugee program are moral failures and a disgrace to the American legacy of welcome. Refugee resettlement is not a partisan issue. Each day that resettlement is paused is a matter of life and death for the thousands of refugees waiting to rebuild their lives. Congress must not overlook this blatant disregard for human life and our legal process. They must demand that they be consulted as soon as possible and that the refugee program be restored,” said Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service.

He added: “The proposed refugee resettlement number of 15,000, a more than 80% cut over historic norms, is unacceptable. Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger. But for the past three years, President Trump and his administration have strayed so far from these basic principles in the name of their cruel, racist and partisan goals that the life-saving refugee resettlement program is a shadow of what it once was. I urge all Americans to insist that Congress hold the White House accountable to operating the refugee program as required by U.S. law.”

“As a church, we in the ELCA are committed to continuing ministries of welcome that support and build communities around the country and enrich the life of our nation,“ said Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, “As we have done throughout our history, I urge our elected officials to honor and continue our nation’s tradition of leadership in caring for refugees. The ELCA social message on immigration states our belief, ‘that our country has a responsibility to increase the number of refugees it admits’ (p. 9). This year Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and more than 230 ELCA Lutheran leaders called on the Trump administration to raise the refugee admissions ceiling to at least 95,000 refugees but as we have learned, at most 15,000 people fleeing persecution will be able find safe haven on our shores. The new ceiling set by the Administration for FY21, in addition to the significantly lower-than-ceiling admittance in FY20, has serious consequences for the global refugee crisis, prolonging the suffering of people waiting for a new home.”

“The U.S. must deepen its commitment to addressing the world’s worst humanitarian crises by offering refuge to those who need it most. As an international Catholic organization, we affirm the inherent dignity of every person and the right of refugees to seek security and safety for themselves and their families,” said Joan Rosenhauer, Executive Director at JRS/USA.

“2020 is not the sort of year we expected.  With the pandemic health crisis, economic crisis, and election campaign, 2020 is set to be remembered as a year of fear, isolation, violence, and a protectionist ‘me first’ policy. And people fleeing persecution and violence in their own countries are bearing the gravest of burdens. All of which makes the Trump administration’s decision to allow only 15,000 people into the U.S. morally questionable. The U.S. has always had it within our means to extend the warmth of welcome to many more refugees than we do. We call on Congress to right this wrong,” said Lawrence E. Couch, Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

“In the midst of a refugee crisis compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has signaled to the world that it is willing to accept an historically low number of families fleeing persecution. As Christians, Cooperative Baptists take seriously the  commandments to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger. As Baptists, we value religious freedom and champion religious liberty for all. As a result, CBF field personnel minister to communities of persecuted refugees across the globe and here in the U.S. We urge the President to reconsider and set a robust refugee admissions goal that reflects our value of welcoming the stranger. We should affirm again our role as a refuge for the persecuted where the vulnerable can find compassion, freedom, generosity and welcome,” said Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley, Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“The refugee program was born out of faith communities joining together to welcome those facing persecution. This is an ancient tradition that has become part of the fabric of this nation and is deeply interwoven with the basic principles of what it means to be a democracy,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer, United Church of Christ General Minister and President. “This administration, with its refusal again to consult with Congress in a timely manner, has shown disinterest in those most in need. It has slashed the refugee program more than 80% in the last three years. Lowering the refugee admissions goal yet again is unacceptable. The U.S. should be welcoming 95,000, the annual average over forty years since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980. Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers has long been part nation’s laws and part of our moral responsibility.”

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is made up of 55 national, faith-based organizations brought together across many theological traditions with a common call to seek just policies that lift up the God-given dignity of every individual. In partnership, we work to protect the rights, dignity, and safety of all refugees and migrants. 

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