In his relentless push to cut the number of refugees admitted to the U.S., President Donald Trump has ended up hurting members of a group he once pledged to protect ― Christians fleeing persecution in countries where they are unable to freely practice their faith.
Early in his presidency, Trump promised his evangelical base that Christian refugees would be prioritized. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at a summit organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association last year, told the world’s persecuted Christians, “We stand with you.” And over the summer, the State Department made overtures illustrating its commitment to protecting persecuted minorities, organizing an international conference about the importance of religious freedom.
And yet, the White House has made it harder for these persecuted minorities to find a safe haven on America’s shores.
According to State Department data, the number of Christian refugees admitted into the U.S. has declined dramatically since President Barack Obama left the White House. In the fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, 2016, while Obama was still in power, the U.S. admitted about 37,500 Christian refugees. In the fiscal year 2017, the number of resettled Christian refugees dipped to around 25,200. And so far in the fiscal year 2018, which ends Sept. 30, the number of resettled Christian refugees is closer to 14,600.
Between fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the number of resettled Christian refugees declined about 40 percent. Compared to 2016, under Obama, this year’s number represents a cut of about 60 percent.
Even though the number of Christian refugees has shrunk overall, the data suggest that Christians now take up a larger percentage of new refugee arrivals. That’s partly due to a staggering drop in Muslim refugee admissions. In the fiscal year 2016, the U.S. admitted about 38,900 Muslim refugees. That number shrunk to around 3,200 in the current fiscal year ― a decline of over 90 percent.
The cuts are fallout from the Trump administration’s tough stance on legal immigration. In 2017, Trump placed America’s refugee admissions cap at 45,000 ― the lowest level it’s been since the program was established in 1980. Reports suggest the White House is considering making even harsher cuts to refugee admissions in the fiscal year 2019.
Along with instituting a temporary ban on all refugee admissions, the administration has also reportedly established complicated new behind-the-scenes vetting procedures that have slowed down admissions. As a result, even though the admission ceiling was officially set at 45,000, experts estimate that the U.S. is actually on track to take in only about 20,000 total refugees in the fiscal year 2018 ― far fewer than the rest of the world, according to the Pew Research Center
“Ironically, these policies, while clearly aimed at Muslim refugees, ensure that Christians and other religious minorities from many of the countries on Trump’s list of suspect travel ban nations are also kept out,” Mary Giovagnoli, director of Refugee Council USA, told NBC. “It suggests that the president has no real interest in religious persecution or the tenets of religious freedom.”
The Trump administration has claimed that these changes are necessary to improve national security. The White House has also insisted that it is helping persecuted Christians by directing aid to faith-based groups based in the Middle East.
While many rank-and-file white evangelical Christians support the administration’s stance on refugees, prominent voices within evangelical Christianity are also speaking up on behalf of persecuted religious minorities.
The Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of eight evangelical organizations united around immigration issues, has been pushing for the White House to raise the refugee admissions cap for the fiscal year 2019. More than 400 local pastors and lay leaders have signed the coalition’s letter to the White House about this cause.
Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, pressed Trump to allow at least 75,000 refugees to resettle in the U.S. over the next year.
“Over the past 40 years, American evangelical Christians have opened their hearts and homes to hundreds of thousands of refugees, including many persecuted believers who would otherwise not be alive today,” Carey said in a statement. “This extraordinary ministry of mercy has nearly ground to a halt as the sharp reduction in refugee resettlement approvals has left tens of thousands of refugees stranded in dangerous refugee camps and settlements.”
“We can and must do much better than this.”