Unsettled: The Refugee Question
January 14, 2020
"I had a small hope that maybe ISIS would not come," Thabet says, remembering, as he and the reporter drove the long road toward Mosul. But within hours, everyone he loved and knew had fled. Thirteen thousand Christians vanished, scattered miles from the Nineveh Plain, in hiding. They slept in courtyards, unfinished apartment buildings, churches, camps -- while waves of terrorists burned their way through their towns.
In cities like his, the nights often went like this. Priests would climb the sanctuary steps to ring the bells, sounding the alarm that fighters were on their way. Moms and dads shook their kids awake, gathered what they could, and left. It was the last time most of them would ever see their homes again. Even now, after the region was recaptured and secured, the Christians brave enough to stay don't have an easy life. There's oppression, isolation, and violence. Families keep their daughters close, worried about rape and abuse.
But leaving, for some, is just as difficult. In the United States, asylum can be hard to come by. After eight years of watching "refugees" stream across our borders unchecked, President Trump is processing these applications with an abundance of caution. Under the previous White House, too many foreigners were gaming the system, slipping into lines where they knew they couldn't be scrutinized. This administration has been trying to clean up that mess, putting procedures and screenings in place to guarantee that anyone who steps foot on our soil doesn't pose a threat to the American people.
That new vigilance has paid off. There's more balance in the faith groups entering the country, for one thing. Under Obama, 97 percent of the Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. were Muslim, while Christians would dribble through one or two at a time. President Trump is trying to give other believers, especially those targeted for persecution, the fair shake the last administration didn't. Although there's been a dramatic decrease in the number of refugees, Christians, as of last year, made up 82 percent of them.
But the system isn't perfect. And that's one thing evangelicals have struggled with, especially as the global horrors keep growing and pool of victims gets larger. When the White House announced in September that it was cutting its refugee ceiling from 30,000 to almost zero, there were some conservatives who, fed up with Obama's dangerous policy, thought this was a positive step. Others, like myself, were instantly concerned. As we speak, there's an unprecedented number of believers -- from all faiths -- being kicked out of their homelands and displaced. Whether they're being killed or driven out or put in concentration camps, the survival of entire populations is at stake.
Now, there are some evangelicals who agree with liberals and think America should open its arms to everyone. Obviously, that's created some friction inside the church and conservative circles -- because on one hand, we want to be a place of last resort for the vulnerable. But on the other, we don't want our country taken advantage of by those who are not interested in being a part of America, rather they want to pull America apart. Ideally, we insisted at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the administration would never let the number of refugees drop below 30,000 -- which is already a historic low.
"So long as refugee numbers are low," Mark Krikorian pointed out on NRO, "and not drawing disproportionately from the Islamic world, even governors with pretty hawkish constituencies may well feel free to accommodate the... lobby for continued resettlement."
Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) agrees and even took some flak for defending his governor, who, like a lot of Republicans, is giving the green light to refugees resettling in his state. On "Washington Watch," Lankford explained that it all goes back to the core values that created America. "Dating back to the 1700s, our framers decided that our nation was going to be founded on a different kind of principle: that we're going to honor people of faith to be able to not only have a faith of their choosing -- but to be able to live that faith out or to be able to have no faith at all. And many of the refugees that are fleeing from around the world are fleeing religious persecution, in particular, and running from places around the world where they cannot survive based on their faith, whether that be Kurds... Christians, Yazidis, or other faiths. And so America, as a beacon of place where we honor religious liberty, we should continue to be able to practice that as well in receiving refugees, especially those fleeing religious persecution."
As he and I talked about, these people are looking for a safe haven. And while the Obama administration didn't do a very good job screening these people, President Trump changed that. These aren't unvetted terrorist wannabes who want to destroy America. They're hurting survivors with no place to go. Our faith leads us to be a place of refuge. That doesn't mean we blindly embrace anyone who shows up at our borders. But it does mean we've got to keep the door open for the victims who truly need it.
Tony Perkins's Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.