Background and Rationale for FY20 Refugee Admissions Action Alert
According to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are 65.6 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Of this number, nearly 22.5 million are considered refugees, defined by UNHCR as people “who [have] been forced to flee [their] country because of persecution, war, or violence.”
The United States has long welcomed refugees. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was the first refugee legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, admitting displaced Europeans following World War II; the bill oversaw an additional 400,000 refugees settling in the U.S. after the earlier admission of over 250,000 European refugees. Since then, the U.S. has consistently shown global leadership in refugee resettlement, opening its doors to refugees from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Poland, Syria, Bhutan, and Sudan among other regions and nations. In 1980, Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which created the existing Federal Refugee Resettlement Program. Under this program, the U.S. government partners with nine national refugee resettlement agencies to help newly arrived refugees settle in their new communities.
Each year, the U.S. president consults with Congress and federal agencies to designate priority nationalities and processing for the upcoming year’s refugee resettlement. As part of this decision, the president sets yearly resettlement goals and ceilings on the number of refugees admitted from each region of the world. Since 1980, the average annual refugee admissions goal has exceeded 95,000. Last year, the U.S. administration announced the refugee resettlement goal for fiscal year 2018 as 45,000—a historic low - and in fiscal year 2019 lower the cap even further to 30,000. The 2020 goal was recently announced: 18,000.
The real and tangible effects of this year’s hyper-low admissions are already evident as the State Department closes refugee resettlement offices due to the “low numbers of refugees” and refugees watch their background checks—which take approximately two years to complete—expire.
On July 18, 2019, it was reported that some Trump administration officials have proposed that almost no refugees be admitted in Fiscal Year 2020. This proposal is for a near shut-down of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which would wind down the United States’ decades-long commitment to extending hospitality and a safe haven to those fleeing violence and persecution worldwide.
The Trump administration proposed this number, but did not consult with Congress on it, as required by law. This means that it cannot go into effect -- and until such a meeting takes place, there will be a pause on the resettlement process that is already underway. The longer this meeting is delayed, the more damage there will be to the infrastructure of refugee resettlement, and the individuals and families who are waiting, having been already approved for travel to the U.S. It threatens to shut-down the U.S. refugee resettlement program altogether, which would wind down the United States’ decades-long commitment to extending hospitality and a safe haven to those fleeing violence and persecution worldwide.
There are numerous callings throughout Scripture to show love to “the foreigner,” grounded in the experience the Israelites had of being foreigners themselves. One example is, When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34).
The people of God are instructed to show tangible care for those who are vulnerable, including the foreigner in their midst, e.g. When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
Sin is described as a lack of concern, and tangible care, for those who were in need: Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)
And the presence of Christ is described as experienced through encounters with “the stranger,” For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:25-36)
Much of the general theological underpinnings of welcome and hospitality toward vulnerable immigrants can be found in the 2010 report to Synod in migration.
When it comes to refugees specifically -- those who are driven from their homes to persecution for specific reasons, including religion -- it is important to remember that the roots of the Reformation spring from the experience of religious persecution. John Calvin himself was a refugee, and ministered to other refugees while in Geneva, giving shape to the theological framework of hospitality that he outlined in his Biblical commentaries. This historical memory grounds and motivates our Reformed witness today.
The theological underpinnings of the calling to welcome various kinds of immigrants were articulated in a report to Synod 2010 on “the issue of the migration of workers as it relates to the church’s ministries of inclusion, compassion, and hospitality” (Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 536; see Acts of Synod 2007, p. 596).
In response to the report, synod adopted thirteen recommendations on areas including education and awareness, ministry of mercy and compassion, and justice and advocacy (see Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 875-79).
Synod calls CRC churches to take action in a variety of ways:
Christians should engage in thoughtful study and discussion of the economic, political, social, and spiritual issues involved in the church’s ministry with immigrant people. This can include the study of the 2010 Synodical Migration Report.
Following our scriptural calling to welcome the stranger, we demonstrate Christ’s love to the marginalized, offering assistance for needy immigrants and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.
We advocate for reforms to our immigration laws in the United States and Canada so that they may be fair, just, and equitable for immigrants, particularly for vulnerable populations such as refugees.
Ask Congress and the Trump Administration to protect refugee resettlement and oppose proposals to decimate the program.