The President of the United States makes an annual determination on refugee resettlement levels in the U.S. at the start of the fiscal year in October. This process was established in 1980 by the U.S. Refugee Act. With no indication that a determination will be signed by midnight tonight, the refugee resettlement in America comes to a screeching – and disconcerting – halt.
As we at Bethany Christian Services state in a new report released yesterday, “COVID-19 comes amid the most critical year to date of the refugee crisis.” At the end of 2019, the UN Refugee Agency reported that 1% of all humanity was displaced from their home. We found that the pandemic has exacerbated the global refugee crisis and has disproportionately affected children, who account for 40% of displaced people around the world.
This year, resilient refugees have faced not just a pandemic but also poor living conditions, travel bans, and more profound economic uncertainty. Due to the global food shortage, most refugees are at higher risk of dying by starvation than contracting COVID-19. An estimated 60,000 Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica are currently starving. Recently, a devastating fire in Greece’s overcrowded refugee camp, Moria, left thousands homeless. This is the same refugee camp where 1,300 people were reported to be sharing one tarp.
Many well-intentioned Americans might assume that this closure is about keeping Americans safe. I think, Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration said it best in a National Immigration Forum press call yesterday, “Refugees are the most thoroughly investigated population coming into the United States."
In terms of protecting Americans from disease, refugees resettling in the U.S. undergo extensive health screenings before entering the country, including COVID-19 testing and symptom screening. The CDC has even published guidelines on how to safely resettle refugees.
Nonprofits that specialize in resettlement have the capacity to assist thousands more refugees, especially children, in the United States – the ones for whom resettlement is literally their last chance at survival. At Bethany, we are motivated by our faith to serve the populations of people who desperately need safety and resources. We abide by a call from the Scriptures outlined in Matthew 5:37-40:
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.’ (MSG)
Refugee resettlement is historically one of the few things that has consistently had bipartisan support. In fact, recent surveys show that both Trump and Biden supporters see immigrants as having a positive impact on society. There is no need to unnecessarily politicize a decision that can only do good for vulnerable people and the world, many of whom are overlooked or ignored.
As a country, we must face the moral reality of this global crisis. When we shut our doors, we are not prioritizing the safety of Americans. Instead, we are leaving people around the world vulnerable to trafficking, starvation, and violence. We are refusing to provide respite and protection to those persecuted for their religious beliefs. We are keeping families separated as refugees already resettled in the U.S. would lose any hope of starting a new life with their family. We are turning our backs on the people who need help the most.
We can do better. We must.
Chris Palusky has spent over 20 years bringing global humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations. Some of this content has been adapted from Bethany’s Global Refugee Report released on September 28, 2020.