U.S. refugee numbers

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 20th of September, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

Coming up next, U.S. refugee numbers. Last year the Trump administration announced it would cap the number of refugees admitted to the United States at 45,000. That was the lowest number since the caps beginning in 1980.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But now that number is going down further. This week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. would lower the refugee cap to just 30,000.

Mindy Belz is senior editor for WORLD Magazine, and she’s been following this story. She’s here now to discuss.

Mindy, what is happening with this now?

BELZ: It’s important to look at the numbers that we have for the fiscal year that we’re currently in, fiscal year 2018, and the United States has admitted just over 18,000 refugees to date. So, I think where we want to begin is realizing that already we are on track to come in well below the new number. We’re not going to hit the 45,000 ceiling by any stretch of the imagination in the current fiscal year. What this says, I believe, is that the United States—a country built on immigrants, built on refugees from many, many lands—is now in a process of shutting down that legacy and shutting down the program.  

REICHARD: What will be the effect of this new cap?

BELZ: Well, I think that one thing that is underway under the Trump administration no doubt there is work to be done in fixing our immigration laws, in this debate that we’ve had ongoing about reducing the number of people who arrive in this country illegally and who do not pass security thresholds and that sort of thing. This is not what we’re talking about when we talk about refugee admissions. Our refugee program has continued to have very serious vetting, it’s continued to be, really, a model for the whole world. Because of the way that we have traditionally processed refugees, that we have granted those most in need a safe haven, we have also provided for them through a public-private partnership that relies heavily on religious groups, churches, Jewish groups, a number of groups in the United States has a historic and deep and, I would say, expert role to play in refugee admissions and in assimilating them. And what we’re seeing is ending the thing that’s working best while we’re not addressing the very serious problems that we have about regular immigrant admissions that are coming in all the time.

REICHARD:  What’s the upside to the cap?

BELZ: Well, it definitely is stirring a conversation and a debate. There were more than 600 religious leaders and 120 faith-based groups that actually wrote to the administration arguing against lowering the ceiling. And it’s a remarkable list of people who would normally not agree on theological questions and political questions, but here’s something they all agree on. I think it’s important that even those of us in our own local churches realize that we have a role to play, that churches have traditionally played a strong role in refugee resettlement. And what does that look like and why do we do it? Another thing that I think is being lost is the value of refugees as—without wanting to sound crass—as a foreign policy tool or even a national security tool. And I would point you to some of the recent dissidents who have arrived in this country from China and North Korea. Without their testimony to Congress, to the public, we would not know right now what we know is going on inside of North Korea, we would not know about these incredible political camps and the suffering that is happening there. These are things that we lose when we do not have an orderly and welcoming policy on refugees.

REICHARD: You touched on this before, but perhaps it’s good to amplify: we’ve reported here on the terrible backlog of people stuck in immigration court—hundreds of thousands of people. Some say the U.S. just can’t handle anymore influx of people—it’s akin to adding kindling to a raging fire. True, or untrue?

BELZ: Untrue, actually. There is a backlog on refugee admissions, but it has nothing to do with our immigration court system. These are cases that are processed a totally different way. They go through a vetting process that is managed not by the Department of Homeland Security but it’s managed by the State Department. And they all work together at various points, but these are separate systems, and so we are seeing this confusion, and we’re seeing refugees who have very different motivations for leaving their country and seeking asylum being lumped together, being made a suspect category along with those who arrive undocumented. I think that’s a shame.

REICHARD: And how to square that with Christian worldview that says to help the helpless?

BELZ: Well, I think there’s a legitimate question to be had there, but bottom line is that the whole Christian experience, the whole Biblical experience, Old Testament to New Testament, is a picture of people who are called out or people who are sent out and take up residence in a foreign land. And, I mean, it is a metaphor for the Christian life. So, I think that it seems obvious to me that as Christians we are called to do something in these situations and to find out what it means to welcome them.

REICHARD: Mindy Belz is senior editor for WORLD Magazine. Thanks for this report, Mindy.

BELZ: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Photo/Associated Press, Jacquelyn Martin) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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