Over 500 faith groups, leaders oppose reported plan to zero out US refugee program

A woman and children walk through Khazir refugee camp on April 15, 2017 near Mosul, Iraq.
A woman and children walk through Khazir refugee camp on April 15, 2017 near Mosul, Iraq. | Getty Images/Carl Court

More than 500 faith leaders, denominations, churches and nonprofits have signed onto a letter sent to President Donald Trump Friday, urging his administration to relent on reported plans to further shrink the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

As the Trump administration is expected to soon announce a new ceiling for refugee resettlement for fiscal year 2020, the faith groups call on the U.S. government to resettle at least 95,000 refugees in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The letter comes as the Trump administration has cut the number of refugees resettled to the U.S. by 75 percent since taking office. What is more troubling to the leaders and organizations that signed onto Friday’s letter is the report last month that the administration is considering admitting zero refugees into the country in 2020. 

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With the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, the U.S. has resettled just over 27,000 refugees thus far in fiscal year 2018. 

“We are called by our sacred texts and faith principles to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner,” the letter reads. 

“Our congregations, synagogues, and mosques have historically played key roles in assisting refugees with housing, language, employment, and social supports necessary for rapid and effective resettlement into U.S. communities. Yet, our commitment to offer refuge from violence and persecution requires our government to demonstrate the moral leadership upon which our nation was founded.”

With over 25 million refugees in the world today and 70 million people displaced across the globe, the United Nations estimates that about 1.4 million refugees worldwide will require resettlement in 2020 whether as a result of war, famine or persecution. 

Friday’s letter from faith leaders and groups argues that there has never been a time of greater need for the U.S. to uphold its “moral responsibility.”

“People of faith are especially distraught by the implications of low refugee arrivals for particular populations of concern such as families seeking to reunite, religious minorities, and children,” the letter reads. “Family unity is a cornerstone of U.S. refugee resettlement, given the importance of family values in our country and the crucial role that a united family plays in refugee protection and integration, and it is unacceptable to see families being separated due to U.S. policies.”

The leaders and organizations argue that reduced refugee resettlement in the U.S. will impact Christians, Muslims, and other persecuted believers worldwide who are “left without options to safely practice their faith.”

“Faith communities, in particular, remain ready and eager to welcome refugees and decry the policies that are preventing refugees from receiving protection at this time,” the letter stresses.  “For decades, people of faith have welcomed refugees into our homes, houses of worship, and communities.”

Signatories of the letter include left-leaning denominational bodies such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church and the Alliance of Baptists. 

Signatories also included several Catholic churches and faith-based social justice organizations.

Among the charities and organizations included in the letter are Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit that helps refugees resettlement Michigan and Pennsylvania; and Church World Service, one of nine organizations authorized to resettle refugees in the U.S.

The progressive evangelical social justice organization Sojourners, which is headed by well-known social justice advocate Jim Wallis, is also listed as a signatory. 

Also, non-Christian groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Ohio, Islamic Relief USA, and the National Council of Jewish Women were included in the letter. 

In the last full fiscal year of the Obama presidency, over 85,000 refugees were resettled to the U.S. During the first year of Trump’s presidency, the president temporarily suspended refugee resettlement and drastically reduced the annual refugee ceiling. 

Since then, refugee advocates and faith leaders have spoken out against the administration’s refugee policies, calling for the U.S. refugee resettlement program to be restored to prior levels. 

In July, representatives from organizations like the evangelical World Relief, the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the Jewish resettlement agency HIAS held a congressional briefing to explain the implications that the refugee policy has on international religious freedom. 

The Trump administration has championed the cause of international religious freedom and has even held two State Department ministerials that brought in religious and political leaders as well as survivors of persecution from all over the world. 

But many advocates see a disconnect between the administration's vow to protect international religious freedom and the administration’s low refugee resettlement numbers. 

“Many of us can not believe that a country like the United States with its resources, its stated public interest in religious freedom and its recognition of the genocide against my people can do so little in terms of resettling for our most urgent cases,” Pari Ibrahim, founder of the Free Yezidi Foundation, said of her persecuted community in Iraq at the congressional briefing.

In early August, 18 U.S. senators from both political parties sent a letter to Trump, calling on the president not to reduce the refugee ceiling for the next fiscal year. 

“America has an obvious interest in demonstrating and promoting freedom of religion to the world, including accepting refugees who flee persecution because of their faith," the letter reads.

While advocates are calling for the U.S. to resettle 95,000 in the fiscal year 2020, the U.N. reports that just 92,000 refugees were resettled worldwide in 2018. 

“If you look at the global resettlement trend, not only have the U.S. numbers declined but there has been a decline in the number of resettlement spots last year. Basically, a lot of that is due to the U.S. also being in a leadership role, which other countries are closing the door as well,” Jenny Yang, senior vice president for advocacy and policy World Relief, told CP last month. “A lot of countries take our lead when it comes to small resettlement numbers.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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