US bishops: 'Extraordinarily low' refugee limits harm the innocent

Manyang Reath Kher Credit Jonah McKeown CNA Manyang Reath Kher speaks March 28 at a refugee rally outside the White House. / Jonah McKeown/CNA.

The U.S. bishops have voiced concern over the abnormally low levels of refugees admitted to the U.S. under the Trump administration, saying that it puts those fleeing danger at risk, and fails to comply with Christian teaching on welcoming the stranger.

"The current level of refugee arrivals leaves thousands of vulnerable people in harm's way and searching for protection," said Bishop Joe Vasquez, speaking as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee On Migration. "Most often they are at-risk women and children who are too vulnerable to remain in the region and/or in situations too dangerous for them to wait in the host country until the conflict at home has ended."

The bishops' March 26 letter was sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and to the U.S. State Department.

"As Christians, our concerns for refugees is integral to our life of faith," the bishops said. "In this spirit, we urge the Administration to renew a bipartisan commitment to resettlement for refugees, including religious minorities."

Historically, the average number of refugees admitted to the United States exceeded 95,000 per year. For fiscal year 2018, the administration has set a target at 45,000, but only 9,616 were resettled by March 16. This places the U.S. on pace to resettle less than 20,000 refugees, 25 percent of the number who arrived in fiscal year 2016.

The Trump administration refugee admission target is "historically low," as is the "extraordinarily low" number of refugees it is on pace to resettle, said the bishops.

Among those denied admittance were 87 Christian refugees and other persecuted minorities from Iran. This is despite previous years in which refugees from Iran had a 99 percent admission rate.

These trends "signify an abdication of our nation's leadership in humanitarian protection through resettlement and in championing international religious freedom," the bishops charged.

They cited Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me," as well as the Old Testament's exhortations to care for the stranger.

They called on the Trump administration to admit at least 45,000 refugees in this fiscal year and to issue a presidential determination allowing 75,000 refugees to enter the country next year. They again requested a meeting with Trump to discuss how to address refugee processing.

A similar March 26 letter was sent to the heads of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. State Department. It was signed by over 1,600 Catholic organizations and individuals, including priests, men and women religious, lay leaders, and Catholic Charities affiliates.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a group of nearly 50 faith-based organizations that work to support the dignity of refugees and migrants, held a rally in front of the White House on March 28 to oppose the low resettlement numbers.

The rally included a foot washing service and speakers who shared the stories of refugees impacted by the administration's policies.

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