Seven evangelical Christian organizations have jointly criticized the Trump administration for allowing refugee resettlement to hit a historic low at a time when the global refugee crisis is intensifying.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback, the leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table told the administration its drastic cuts to refugee admissions could be undermining its pledge to protect religious freedom worldwide.
The group, a coalition of seven evangelical organizations united around immigration issues, called for the administration to bring refugee resettlement back to “a level consistent with historical norms.” It recommended resettling at least 75,000 refugees in fiscal year 2019.
“We appreciate and share the commitment of this administration ... to leveraging U.S. influence to ensure that people around the world are able to practice their faith without facing persecution or restrictions,” the leaders wrote in the Aug. 7 letter. “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.”
Signatories include Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and others.
The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last year, President Donald Trump set the refugee admissions cap at 45,000 ― the lowest level since the modern program was enacted in 1980. In practice, data suggests that the U.S. is admitting even fewer than that. It’s on track to admit about 20,000 refugees during the current fiscal year, CNN reports.
The administration has until September to decide the cap for fiscal year 2019, which begins on Oct. 1. New reports from The New York Times and The Daily Beast suggest the White House is considering dropping the official ceiling even further, down to 25,000 people.
The cuts come during a time when the global refugee crisis is at the highest level ever recorded. The number of refugees increased from 22.5 million in 2016 to 25.4 million in 2017, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
In their letter, the leaders said they were worried about refugees of all faiths, but they expressed particular concern about the fate of Middle Eastern Christians, who have been persecuted by the so-called Islamic State and other extremist movements.
During the first half of 2016, 1,574 Middle Eastern Christian refugees were admitted to the U.S., the letter states. But in the first half of 2018, only 23 Christians from the region were admitted ― a decline of 98.5 percent.
“Cuts to our refugee admission program affect all persecuted religious minorities, but these cuts significantly impact our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ,” the evangelical leaders write.
The State Department has pledged to promote religious freedom in countries around the world. It hosted a three-day summit on the topic in Washington, D.C., just last month. But members of the Evangelical Immigration Table believe advancing religious freedom means protecting refugees who are victims of religious persecution.
“One key measure of our country’s commitment to religious freedom abroad is how we treat the refugee fleeing persecution,” Travis Wussow, a leader with the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, while attention to religious freedom is growing, the number of refugees admitted to the United States ― including the admission of persecuted Christians ― is shrinking.”
“Our commitment is wide in speech,” he continued, “but is it deep enough in action to welcome refugees upon our shores? We are expected to do both.”
But while they confront the Trump administration on the issue, members of the Evangelical Immigration Table also face another challenge ― the fact that rank-and-file white evangelical Protestants are more inclined to side with the president.
Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of white evangelicals supported Trump’s first executive order on immigration, which restricted refugees and travel from some Muslim-majority countries. In another poll published this May, 68 percent of white evangelicals said they believed the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. Only 25 percent agreed that this responsibility exists.
The studies suggest that, along with petitioning the White House, leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table also face an uphill battle in convincing fellow believers about the importance of welcoming refugees.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the president of the National Association of Evangelicals as Leigh Anderson. His name is Leith Anderson.