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Current Page: Politics | Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Tony Perkins, USCIRF urge Trump to extend religious freedom commitment to refugees

Tony Perkins, USCIRF urge Trump to extend religious freedom commitment to refugees

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf, her daughter Shams, 1, and husband Abdulmajeed arrive at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 7, 2017. | REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Evangelicals leaders, including some who are usually friendly with the administration, are urging President Donald Trump to stop plans to cut the number of refugees allowed into the United States.

These leaders made a last-ditch effort Tuesday to encourage the administration to reinvigorate the U.S. refugee resettlement program as a White House meeting was scheduled to discuss a decrease in the limit on refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S.

A prominent proponent of the Trump administration’s socially conservative policies, evangelical activist Tony Perkins, voiced alarm about reported plans to possibly “zero out” the U.S. refugee resettlement program for the fiscal year 2020. 

Perkins, the outspoken president of the social conservative lobbying group Family Research Council and an advocate for religious freedom, had not been publicly vocal in his opposition to the Trump administration’s historic cuts to the U.S. refugee resettlement program over the last two years.

But on Tuesday, the Baptist pastor issued a statement through his capacity as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressionally mandated bipartisan body tasked with monitoring religious freedom concerns worldwide. 

“USCIRF is alarmed by reports that the administration is preparing to significantly reduce or even zero out, the number of refugees to be resettled to the United States in FY 2020,” Perkins said in his statement. “We strongly urge the administration to extend its admirable commitment to advancing religious freedom to its refugee resettlement policy.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins testifies before the Senate State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee on March 11, 2015. | (Photo: Family Research Council / Carrie Knepper)

Also serving on the commission are other notable Christian conservative figures who have been supportive of the Trump administration, including longtime social conservative activist Gary Bauer and evangelical communications executive Johnnie Moore. Moore often serves as a spokesperson for a group of evangelical leaders who have informally engaged with the Trump White House.

As reported by Politico in July, the Trump administration is considering a “virtual shutdown” of the U.S. refugee resettlement program and could possibly set the 2020 refugee resettlement cap at zero. 

This month, the New York Times reported that administration officials are weighing different options as the president has the discretion to decide how high or low to set the refugee cap. Under Trump, the refugee ceiling has been set at its lowest point since the U.S. refugee resettlement program began in 1980. 

In the fiscal year 2018, the U.S. resettled 22,491 refugees. In the fiscal year 2019 (which ends on Sept. 30), the Trump administration has resettled 28,677 refugees, which falls just short of the 30,000-refugee cap that Trump set for the fiscal year. 

By comparison the U.S. resettled nearly 85,000 refugees in the last full fiscal year of the Obama administration, 2016. 

One option being considered by the administration involves cutting the 30,000-refugee cap by half or more, with most spots being reserved for people deemed to have special status. Another reported plan would eliminate refugee admissions entirely and give the president the ability to allow refugees to enter the country because of emergency situations.

Perkins’ statement comes as other evangelical leaders, especially those associated with the Evangelical Immigration Table, have been critical of the refugee cuts and have called for the refugee resettlement cap to be set as high as 75,000 in the fiscal year 2020.

Leith Anderson, one of the leaders involved in the Evangelical Immigration Table and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, joined a conference call hosted by the National Immigration Forum on Tuesday morning. 

Anderson urged the U.S. government to take in its fair share of refugees. As the global refugee crisis has reached historic levels, the United Nations estimates that over 1.4 million refugees will be in need of resettlement in 2020.

“As an evangelical Christian, I take the Bible seriously,” Anderson said.  

“And the Bible is a book of refugees —  from the nation of Israel to the baby Jesus and his parents taking refuge in Egypt. The Bible is a book of compassion toward others in need of the golden rule — that we need to think about what we would want done for us if we were in their circumstances. And so to sum it up, my Christian faith is what calls me to bless and help refugees. And so, I call on our government to bless and help refugees.”

World Relief, an evangelical refugee resettlement agency and humanitarian arm of the NAE, has called for the Trump administration to resettle at least 95,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2020. 

“If our nation is concerned with international religious freedom, the U.S. refugee resettlement program is among our greatest tools to offer safety & freedom for those persecuted for their faith,” Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s director of U.S. church mobilization, wrote in a tweet. "Religion" is among the five grounds of persecution that define a refugee under US law.”

On Monday, World Relief issued a call to prayer to its followers ahead of Tuesday’s high-level White House meeting.

Anderson, along with former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who served under five presidents, argued on the press call that the U.S. sets the international tone when it comes to refugee resettlement. 

They contend that as the U.S. continues to reduce its refugee cap, other nations will feel less pressure to allow refugees in their borders. 

“The example we set is extremely important globally,” Crocker said. “If we are seen as stepping up to the challenge of welcoming refugees, others are much more likely to do the same. If we don’t, the reverse is also true: others will not step forward and an already desperate humanitarian crisis gets that much worse.

“By taking steps that could lead to the deconstruction of the entire resettlement effort in this country, that is not going to make us any safer,” Crocker added. “The contrary will be true. If we don’t lead in this area, no one else will either and the international community becomes a much less safe place.” 

Gideon Maltz, executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees, told reporters on the call that over the last couple of years, countries like Lebanon and Turkey have reversed previous policies that were accommodating to refugees. 

“Obviously, there is complicated internal dynamics that are partly explaining it,” Maltz said. “It certainly matters that the U.S. government, which has important relationships with all these countries, is in a position to set a moral example through its own actions to engage these governments and encourage them to do the right thing. We are already beginning to see consequences with how other governments are acting.”

The impacts of the cuts already made to the U.S. refugee resettlement program have been felt as organizations authorized to resettle refugees into the U.S. have been forced to close offices and layoff staff. 

“So these resettlement agencies are already under severe stress,” Maltz said. “And already, the infrastructure is being badly damaged.”

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