(RNS) — With a decision looming on how many refugees to admit into the country, and rumors swirling that the number could drop dramatically from this year’s historic low, people of faith are coming together to ask the Trump administration to instead allow tens of thousands more to enter the United States.
Representatives of some of the largest Protestant denominations in the country — including the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Episcopal Church — were planning to gather outside the White House on Wednesday (Sept. 12) to press President Trump to raise the number of refugees admitted in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 to 75,000 people.
And the Evangelical Immigration Table — a coalition that includes the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s single largest Protestant denomination — hosted a call demanding the same.
“I just believe the church has abundant resources, America has abundant resources, to welcome refugees to enjoy security and liberty and friendship — the friendship that Christians in America and Americans have to offer those who are most vulnerable in the world,” said Patrick Vaughn, assistant pastor of Christ Church East Bay in Oakland, Calif., who was one of the participants in the call.
For evangelicals in particular, the refugee crisis brings together a number of key concerns, according to Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. That includes religious freedom, human rights, sanctity of life, peace, protecting children and families and care for the poor and vulnerable, Carey said.
The New York Times has reported Trump is considering lowering the refugee ceiling to 25,000 people in the coming fiscal year, and Nathan Bult, director of government affairs for Bethany Christian Services, said during the call he’s heard numbers as low as 5,000 and interest from members of Congress in placing it as high as 100,000.
“We are already at unprecedented low levels,” Bult said.
Trump slashed that number dramatically when he set it at 45,000 his first year in office — the lowest presidential determination in history, according to Bult — and the U.S. is on track to admit a fraction of that number in the ending fiscal year. Since last October, it has received fewer than 20,000 refugees — a number not likely to top 22,000 in the few weeks before the fiscal year ends.
By comparison, former President Obama set the refugee ceiling at 110,000 his last year in office.
The outcry from religious leaders and organizations comes weeks after a number of them signed on to a pair of letters asking Trump, Congress and key administration officials to resettle at least 75,000 refugees to the U.S. in the coming fiscal year.
About 400 evangelical pastors have added their signatures to a letter dated Aug. 7 from the Evangelical Immigration Table expressing “deep concern about the impact on international religious freedom.” Its original signers included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
And more than 750 faith-based organizations and national and local leaders signed on to another letter, dated Aug. 21, decrying the low number of refugees admitted this year and urging an increase for the next.
“Our collective scriptural mandate and our nation’s history and capabilities as a world leader demand no less,” according to the letter.
Like Wednesday’s planned demonstration, its signers included some of the largest Protestant denominations in the U.S., as well as faith groups such as the AJC, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and Islamic Relief USA. They also included Church World Service, HIAS, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the Episcopal Church, World Relief and at least one Catholic Charities office. (Bethany, which offers services to immigrants and refugees through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, also was on the list.)
Those six agencies make up the majority of the nine agencies contracted with the government to resettle refugees in the U.S. Already decimated by the Trump administration’s immigration and refugee policies, they most recently have offered legal assistance and care to families impacted by the separation crisis at the border.
by Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service