Faith-based refugee resettlement agencies were among the first to speak out against President Donald Trump’s plans to drastically curb refugee admissions to the United States. One year after Trump first issued an executive order restricting immigration, some of these agencies are reflecting on a policy many religious leaders feel has been detrimental to the country.
The Christian refugee agency World Relief, a humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, issued a strong condemnation Thursday of the “various incarnations of the travel ban,” saying the policy has prevented thousands of families fleeing conflict in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar from seeking shelter in America.
“Make no mistake, this has been a net loss for our country,” the organization said in a statement. “Refugee families don’t tear America apart, they make us stronger ... We pray that President Trump and elected officials from each side of the aisle would ensure that we remain a beacon of hope to ALL people seeking a better a way of life.”
The president signed his first executive order on immigration on Jan. 27, 2017, and followed it up with two other modified iterations of the ban. All three versions placed travel restrictions on citizens from mainly Muslim-majority countries. The first two bans also suspended the refugee resettlement program for 120 days. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to the third version of the ban.
A watered-down version of the ban went into effect in June and expired in October. That same month, Trump dropped the refugee admissions quota from 110,000 to 45,000 for the 2018 fiscal year, an all-time low for the United States’ refugee resettlement program. The cuts came at a time when an unprecedented 65 million people are displaced worldwide, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.
Six of the nine voluntary agencies that the federal government tasks with refugee resettlement are faith-based, and many have been speaking up for refugees over the past year.
In its statement, World Relief said less than 30,000 refugees had been admitted to the United States in 2017, compared to over 99,000 in 2016. Broken out into religious affiliation, World Relief estimated that the number of Christian refugees admitted into the U.S. in 2017 was 63 percent lower than the number admitted in 2016. About 80 percent fewer Muslim refugees were admitted during that time.
Even though Trump capped refugee arrivals for 2018 at 45,000, the country is only on track to resettle half that number, World Relief reports.
“The combination of drastically reducing the refugee arrivals ceiling with the various executive orders affecting refugees over the past year have harmed persecuted Christians as well as those of other faiths,” World Relief said in its statement.
Linda Hartke, president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told HuffPost the ban has meant that vulnerable refugees, including torture survivors, unaccompanied refugee children, persecuted religious minorities and those with severe medical needs, continue to be in harm’s way.
“As Christians, we are called to love and serve the neighbors God gives to us and provide places of safety and protection for those fleeing danger,” Hartke said in an email. “The administration’s decisions have been a clear violation of these values, as well as our American ideals of compassion and acceptance. America is diminished when we abandon our values and close our doors on those in need.”
The Jewish refugee resettlement agency HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, released a video to mark the anniversary of the first travel ban. In it, the writer and actor Scott Rogowsky recounts the history of the ban, which was first enacted on Holocaust Remembrance Day. He also points to the mandate in Jewish scriptures to love and welcome the stranger.
“Donald Trump sows fear and proclaims risk,” Rogowsky says in the video. “We are at risk but not from the refugee. We are at risk of losing what America stands for. We are at risk of becoming a country that treats human beings like numbers.”