You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
Each fiscal year, the administration sets a ceiling on the number of refugees that may be resettled through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Recent reports on the upcoming Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions reveals that for FY2020, the ceiling may be set at zero – an unprecedented policy reversal that would essentially end America’s reputation as the moral leader of the free world.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), has witnessed firsthand the shifting trends in U.S. refugee resettlement over the decades, serving as one of only nine agencies authorized by the federal government to welcome newly arrived refugees with vital community integration services for the past 80 years. Amid the worst global refugee crisis in modern history, in which over 70 million people have been displaced, the United States has reduced its admissions by 74 percent in the past two years. Since its inception, the Presidential Determination has issued an average ceiling of 95,000 admissions per fiscal year – in FY2019, it was set at just 30,000, the lowest figure in American history. Restricting resettlement even further will have profound long-term consequences for refugees seeking protection, the communities that have historically welcomed them and America’s role as a global leader on humanitarian issues.
As a faith-based organization, we believe eliminating admissions altogether would be contrary to our covenant with God, which demands we welcome the Stranger as one of our own. We are equally troubled by the sharp decrease in resettlement of persecuted Christians, from 37,521 in FY2016 to just a projected 9,844 in FY2019, according to a recent report by Refugee Council USA. Admissions of Muslim refugees has decreased by 90 percent over two years even though four of the five largest crises affect Muslim-majority countries.
But those fleeing for their lives are not simply defined by their religion or country of origin. When they arrive in America, they are transformed. They become our neighbors, friends, customers, small business owners, taxpayers, our children’s classmates and our fellow congregants. They demonstrate the promise of the American Dream, time and time again throughout our history; from Albert Einstein to Madeline Albright, from Gloria Estefan to Sergei Brin, refugees show us that America’s potential is boundless when we embrace those who need our help the most.
The argument for refugee resettlement is not simply a moral or religious one either. The economic contributions made by refugees have consistently outweighed the costs. Refugees contributed $21 billion in taxes in 2015, and over a 20-year period, a refugee contributes $21,000 more in taxes than the initial investment to resettle them on average. According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review in 2016, immigrants including refugees constitute 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, but they account for approximately 25 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs.
Resettlement is also critical to our national security as a tool to alleviate regional instability, maintain relationships with important allies, and advance our foreign policy interests. Resettling refugees is tangible proof that the United States is a beacon of liberty and inclusion that offers a strong counter-weight to the anti-American narratives of terrorist organizations. As General James Mattis stated, we agree that our nation can reliably and constantly evaluate the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program’s security, as it has for decades, while continuing to safely accept these vulnerable souls to our shores. This great American experiment has shown there is no need to choose; we can and must do both.
We strongly urge the administration to follow in the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan, who resettled more refugees in the U.S. than any other president, and who eloquently stated in his final speech, “If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world will soon be lost.” For the sake of our country’s soul, we must keep our golden doors open and continue the long legacy of welcome that is the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.