Evangelical Leaders Ask Trump to Raise Refugee Ceiling for 2019, Cite Religious Freedom
Seven evangelical leaders have directly voiced concern about the Trump administration's drastic slowing of refugee resettlement to the United States, citing the administration's own call to protect religious freedom worldwide.
Leading Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and prominent Hispanic evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez joined their colleagues from the Evangelical Immigration Table on Tuesday in sending a letter to three top federal agency officials expressing "deep concern about the impact on international religious freedom of recent changes in the U.S. refugee resettlement program."
The Evangelical Immigration Table is a coalition of organizations that advocate for immigration reform to reflect "biblical values." The organization's letter calls on the administration to set the U.S. refugee resettlement cap for fiscal year 2019 at 75,000 refugees, which would be about 50,000 refugees more than a planned limit reportedly being considered by the president for next year.
The letters were sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the latter of which led the State Department's first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last month.
As many of the evangelical leaders who signed the letter attended the ministerial, they expressed gratitude for the strong focus and initiative that the Trump administration has put toward protecting religious freedom around the world.
However, they went on to express disapproval with the fact that the refugee resettlement numbers to the U.S. have decreased at a time when the global refugee population is higher than ever before — over 25 million.
The letter explains that refugee resettlement numbers are down about 70 percent from the 36,000 resettled in the first six months of 2016 to just 11,000 refugees during the same time period in 2018.
"The number of religious minorities who have been offered the opportunity to escape oppression and rebuild their lives in the freedom of the United States is down dramatically as a result," the letter reads. "These declines have been most stark for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, many of whom have endured a genocide at the [hands of the] Islamic State."
The letter goes on to state that over 1,574 Middle East Christians were admitted to the U.S. during the first six months of 2016. In the first half of 2018, the U.S. had only resettled 23 Middle East Christian refugees. That represents a decline of 98.5 percent in two years.
"In short, cuts to our refugee admission program affect all persecuted religious minorities, but these cuts significantly impact our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ," the letter reads.
The letter calls on the agency leaders to do all that is within their authority to make sure that the government resumes refugee resettlement "at a level consistent with historical norms."
"So long as such persecution continues to exist, however, we believe the U.S. should continue to welcome some of the most vulnerable refugees who have been persecuted for their faith, alongside those who have been persecuted for their political opinion, ethnicity, and other reasons enumerated in U.S. law."
The Christian Post reached out to the State Department for comment on the letter. A response is pending.
As previously reported, Trump is considering a plan to reduce the refugee ceiling for next fiscal year to just 25,000 refugees, which would be a 20 percent reduction from the refugee cap the president set for fiscal year 2018. Despite a refugee cap of 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the Trump administration is reportedly only on pace to resettle around 22,000 before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Tuesday's letter was signed by leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Korean Churches for Community Development/Faith and Community Empowerment, the Wesleyan Church, and NAE's humanitarian arm, World Relief.
"The United States has for many years been a beacon of hope to persecuted people around the world," Word Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement. "We have also been an example to many other nations who have followed our lead to welcome those persecuted for their faith. We have nearly abandoned this place of moral leadership (with admittance of persecuted Christians from particular countries down 98 percent). We urge our leaders to return to our national heritage of welcome to persecuted people of all faiths (or none at all). Compassion and security are not mutually exclusive."
Moore heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission while Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Along with being the senior pastor of New Season Church in Sacramento, Rodriguez has also served as an informal adviser to the Trump administration and was one of a select group of faith leaders to pray at Trump's inauguration in January 2017.