In response to my article at the Journal Sentinel (“What would Jesus say about 65 million refugees?“), I had a few people ask me for more information related to the current refugee situation, what is really going on currently in our nation, and what the proposed ban on refugees is all about. Since more than one person asked me this, I wanted to pass along a few resources that are helpful to understanding the situation.
Q: Is refugee care an important biblical issue?
A: Yes, it is. In the Law, God instructed His people to care for the alien or stranger. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). This same idea is echoed in Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats, where He broadens the concept of care to all those in need: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Read more on this topic here: “What the Bible Says About Welcoming Refugees.”
Q: What exactly is going on with President Trump’s executive order?
A: President Trump’s executive order bans all refugees from seven nations (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) from entering the country for a 90-day period, and also suspends the United States Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. There is an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. It reduces the commitment to refugee resettlement in 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000, with priority given to persecuted religious minorities. This article summarizes what is involved: “Trump’s Executive Order: Who does travel ban effect?” You can read the official document at the White House web-site here.
Q: Is there a difference between illegal immigrants and refugees and how does this ban effect them?
A: Because of the countries listed, this ban does not apply to what we typically think of as illegal immigrants but does affect refugees. A ‘refugee’ is a technical category of person, very distinct from an immigrant or illegal immigrant. Refugees are those forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. You can read a very thorough technical definition, which also includes further clarification about displaced people, internally displaced people, and more at the UNHCR webs-site: “What is a refugee?”
Q: What is the current refugee screening process for entry into the US? Is it safe enough presently?
A: President Trump often uses the phrase “extreme vetting” in relation to this executive order, linking it to the need for higher protection of our homeland and safety from terrorism. However, the current refugee screening process is already extremely thorough. You can read a thorough explanation of it at the White House web-site here: “Infographic: the screening process for refugee entry into the United States.” The New York Times succinctly summarized the process in a 20-step overview as well: “Refugee Vetting Process.”
Q: Does this refugee ban actually make us safer?
A: Given the thorough vetting that is already taking place, the impact of the executive order is questionable. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, performed a recent (September 2016) study on terrorism-related violence on US soil and concluded that there is a 0.00003% of death, or 1 in 3,609,709 chance, from terrorist attacks on US soil.
Q: Who pays for refugees’ resettlement, education, etc.?
A: The costs associated with resettling refugees is covered in part by the US Government, in part from the UN, and in part by the refugees themselves as they pay back some of their resettlement costs eventually. You can find a pretty good article about that here: “8 Facts about the US program to resettle Syrian refugees.”
Q: Is this concern from Christians about refugees just part of the liberal influence on the church today? Why should I care?
A: As I mentioned above, the Bible is rich with God’s concern for the alien, stranger, or foreigner. This was because the people of God themselves understand their journey at the Exodus as one of refugees who found a home in God and by God’s grace. The church, centered on Jesus, is established as the community of love (Mark 12:30-31; 1 John 3:23), even as we live as “foreigners and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). While we know that this world is not our home and no human government is ever perfect, we must live as salt and light, calling people to the ways of God in the earth and living that out ourselves.
As you wrestle with what this means for you, let me encourage you to look at the work of World Relief, an evangelical relief and development group who has been engaged for decades with refugees: www.wordrelief.org.