By / Oct 24

Recently, President Biden announced that he would set the United States’ annual refugee ceiling for fiscal year 2023 at 125,000. Traditionally, actual resettlement numbers have tracked closely with that number set by the president each year. However, in recent years, the U.S. has fallen far short of that ceiling. This declining resettlement comes at a time of historic displacement around the world. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 89.3 million people, or 1 in every 88 people on earth, have been forcibly displaced with 27.1 million of those meeting the formal definition of a refugee, roughly half of whom are minors. 

In this time of immense need, it is vital that the U.S. go beyond symbolically setting a significant resettlement cap and actually invest in rebuilding a robust system that can meet those goals and help the most vulnerable around the world. In order to improve our resettlement system, it is essential to understand its history, current processes, and the challenges it faces.

The history of U.S. refugee resettlement

The U.S. has a long history of welcoming persecuted peoples and refugees, even going back to the nation’s founding. For much of our history, refugees came to America with little formal process. It largely wasn’t until the 1900s that federal laws and agencies began strictly governing immigration and refugee resettlement. Much of our current system was born out of World War II as Europe was overwhelmed with millions of people displaced by the war and the U.S. began reckoning with its own failures to offer refuge to many Jews and other persecuted groups prior to and during the war.

In 1980, during an influx of refugees following the Vietnam War, Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980. This law created our modern-day refugee system by adopting a standardized definition of a “refugee,” creating the Office of Refugee Resettlement to oversee resettlement processes, providing the first statutory basis for asylum, and formalizing the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

Every year since then, the president has set, through a “Presidential Determination,” a cap for the maximum number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle in that given fiscal year. The highest Presidential Determination ever set was in 1980 at 231,700 and the lowest in 2020 at 18,000, with a historic average of about 95,000 since the program began. Since 1980, the United States has resettled more than 3.1 million refugees, more than any other country in the world.

How are refugees resettled in the U.S.?

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a refugee is “an alien who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Those who meet this definition may seek refugee status if they are outside of the U.S. or asylum status if they are physically in the country. The first step for an individual who meets this definition is to register with the UNHCR. The UNHCR then must determine whether the individual qualifies as a refugee and what the best solution for them is. Generally, less than 1% of those who qualify as refugees are ultimately resettled to a third country each year. 

Once an individual is referred by UNHCR for resettlement in the U.S., a network of federal agencies and non-governmental organizations work together to conduct intensive security, biometric, and eligibility screenings. Following these screenings, refugees then must be approved for travel, go through medical exams, and be sponsored by a domestic resettlement agency. Refugees then face final vetting from Customs and Border Patrol upon their arrival to the U.S. Through these rigorous processes, refugees are some of the most thoroughly vetted individuals who come to America. 

Once a refugee is in the U.S., a resettlement agency, in partnership with the U.S. government, works to integrate them into the community and help them successfully start a new life. In previous years, this process would typically take on average 18 to 24 months.

Significant challenges

Though there are few concrete estimates, this already lengthy process now, for a number of reasons, is currently averaging over 5 years. A number of factors have caused incredible slowdowns and backlogs throughout the process that have severely lengthened the amount of time it takes for a refugee to be resettled and limited the number of individuals able to actually be resettled each year, regardless of the cap that is set by the president. Despite the 125,000 cap set by Biden in fiscal year 2022, the U.S. only resettled just over 25,000 refugees.

Because domestic refugee resettlement agencies are funded by the government based on the number of refugees that they resettle, the Trump administration’s decision to significantly curtail resettlement forced an estimated 134 resettlement sites to close and capacity to be cut by about 38%. It has proven to be difficult for resettlement agencies to rebuild their capacity in re-opening locations, rehiring staff, and rebuilding volunteer networks, given the unreliable nature of their funding. Additionally, overseas processing and interviews have been slow to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump-era cuts. Other factors such as understaffing across federal agencies have contributed to a largely unworkable system for many individuals in dire circumstances.

While there are a number of real, logistical challenges facing the resettlement system, at its core, the issue is largely one of political will. If both the Biden administration and Congress wanted to truly fix our resettlement system, they could choose to funnel increased resources to the appropriate federal agencies and create new funding streams for resettlement organizations. Rebuilding the refugee resettlement program is certainly a massive feat, but it is one that can be done if our leaders choose to prioritize it. 

Why does it matter?

In the absence of a nimble and efficient refugee system, our government has turned to a tool known as “humanitarian parole” as a substitute. Humanitarian parole may be used to deliver people quickly to the U.S. in the case of a humanitarian crisis. Over the last year, the U.S. government used this tool to assist Afghans following the withdrawal of U.S. troops and Ukrainians following the invasion of Russia. While this did allow people to be moved out of harm’s way quickly, it came at a cost. Parole is a temporary solution to what is often a long-term crisis. It provides only temporary protection for individuals in the U.S. and does not offer them the resettlement support given to formal refugees. Congress had to act to provide resettlement benefits to Afghans who were evacuated here, and still must act in the future to allow Afghans to stay lawfully in the U.S. moving forward.

Another consequence of our current resettlement system is that a growing number of people find that their only option is to present themselves at the U.S. southern border. If an individual believes that they meet the definition of a refugee but is languishing in backlogs and processing overseas, they may choose to travel to the southern border and seek asylum either at a port of entry or by presenting themselves to a border patrol officer along the border. Over the past year, we’ve seen not just individuals from the “Northern Triangle”⸺ El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras⸺arriving at the border, but people from all over the world who ideally should be processed as refugees closer to home. For example, as the Communist regime in Venezuela has crumbled into a humanitarian crisis over the last year, some 187,000 Venezuelans have made the treacherous journey through the Darién gap and presented themselves for asylum at the southern border. A functioning resettlement system both better serves those who are vulnerable and need to flee while also relieving our overwhelmed resources at the southern border. 

As Americans, it can be easy for us to feel distant from refugees around the world and to wonder why these backlogs and challenges matter. First of all, this matters because these people matter greatly to God, and we are called to love, serve, and work for their good. These issues in the resettlement system are affecting the real lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and a system that was designed to assist them in finding refuge is often leaving them stranded and unable to receive help in a timely and effective manner.

The Bible is unequivocally clear in its command for Christians to care for the persecuted and vulnerable. Throughout the narrative of Scripture, we see over and over God’s call to care for the immigrant and the refugee as vulnerable people made in the image of God (Matt. 25:35-40, James 1:27). The Southern Baptist Convention has reaffirmed this command to care for the “stranger” among us through numerous resolutions declaring “the value and dignity of immigrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or legal status” and encouraging “people to increase their involvement in resettlement of legal refugees through the enlistment of sponsors and the provision of church-centered ministries.”

Historically, people of faith have led the way in resettling refugees. On a national level, six of the nine agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees have religious roots that motivate their work. On a local level, last year saw a renewed effort from Christians and churches to assist in resettling the Afghans who were evacuated and paroled into the U.S. We saw churches open their doors, families make meals, and Christians rise up to welcome our new Afghan neighbors. World Relief, a Christian refugee resettlement organization, saw their number of active volunteers double in 2021. Recent polling indicated that 36% of evangelicals have been directly involved in serving refugees and immigrants, and 70% say that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to accept refugees.

Christians care about refugees and are often on the frontlines in serving and welcoming them to our communities. Alongside that important work, we must also continue to advocate and encourage our lawmakers and political leaders to similarly value these vulnerable people and invest the necessary resources to truly allow our nation to once again be a place of refuge for the persecuted.

By / Jun 3

Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, announced that the total number of people forcibly displaced has surpassed 100 million for the first time on record. This number includes those “forced to flee conflict violence, human rights violations and persecution” and includes refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people. These 100 million people represent 1% of the global population and would make up the 14th most populous nation in the world. 

The number of displaced people has risen dramatically in the last decade from 45.2 million in 2012 to a staggering 100 million today. This massive increase can be attributed to increased conflict in countries such as “Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo” as well as the war in Ukraine. Since the war in Ukraine began, more than 8 million people have been internally displaced, and 6 million have fled as refugees.

According to the European Commission, 87% of refugees are hosted in developing countries and face severe challenges in accessing shelter, food, and other basic necessities. They also face high rates of poverty, violence, abuse, and exploitation. Once displaced, it is often difficult for these people to find places of permanence, with displacements lasting “20 years on average for refugees and more than 10 years for most internally displaced people (IDPs).”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Flippo Grandi, said of this milestone that “This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.” He continued stating, “To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile.”

How can the U.S. respond? 

The response to a humanitarian crisis as massive and complex as this requires a nuanced and multifaceted political response from the United States and global community. 

A key component of our nation’s response is the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). A refugee is defined as someone who “has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” and currently resides outside of the United States. These individuals must register with UNHCR and go through extensive vetting and security checks before being considered for resettlement in the United States. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, the USRAP has been devastated, along with the network of nonprofits and service providers that support resettlement. The U.S. has largely abdicated its role as a refuge to the vulnerable at this time of historic levels of refugees and internationally displaced people worldwide, admitting just 11,411 refugees in the last fiscal year. The ERLC is deeply engaged in advocating for the rebuilding of this safe and legal program to restore our country’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.

Another avenue for displaced people to seek refuge in the United States is through seeking asylum. Asylees are similar in definition to refugees but must be physically present in the United States to apply. Because of the severe backlogs in the USRAP program, some displaced people choose to physically present themself at the United States’ borders. However, because of Title 42, the public health order that requires immediate expulsion of most immigrants arriving to the U.S.-Mexico border, very few individuals are able to cross into the United States and request asylum, despite their legal right to do so. The ERLC is advocating for protections for these asylum seekers and policies that safely, fairly, and compassionately allow them due process and protection from harm.

A third component of our response to this humanitarian crisis must be addressing the root issues that are forcibly displacing these people. The ERLC has long advocated for addressing these “root causes” of migration—poverty, violence, and corruption—in Central America and around the world. Additionally, the ERLC has extensively worked to support religious freedom and human rights for all of our neighbors around the world. 

In the face of this crisis, we as Christians cannot look away. While there can be good-faith disagreements on immigration policy, international aid, and foreign policy, the Bible demands that we see the dignity of these displaced individuals made in God’s image and care for their well-being in the midst of their immense personal tragedies. Indifference is not an option afforded to believers. We must commit to fervent prayer on behalf of those who are displaced and seek out ways to serve and welcome them into our communities.

By / May 18

With more than 26 million refugees and over 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, how Christians and churches see migrants and refugees is vitally important. What we believe about God’s mission to seek, save, and reconcile the world to himself through Jesus is revealed, in part, by how we see migrants and refugees when it comes to ministry, care, and concern for them as people made in God’s image and loved by him. For American Christians, the global refugee crisis and presence of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers at our southern border provides us an opportunity to transcend political and cultural controversies in order to minister and love in the name of Jesus.

In Leviticus 19:33-34, God says to Israel, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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.” This same ethic was reflected by Jesus in his Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This was a specific command for the covenant people of God in ancient Israel, and while modern nation-states have unique responsibilities related to borders and security, the church embodying the character and mission of God has corresponding responsibilities and opportunities when it comes to ministry, mercy, compassion, and justice for the sojourner.

Personalizing our country’s border crisis

Back in 2018 when migrant children, families, and individuals traveling to our southern border were in the news, I remember the concern expressed by many. It can feel overwhelming and scary when we see news reports of large numbers of people coming to our borders to ask for entry. I had worked with immigrant and refugee ministry and advocacy for a few years, but the more cable news I watched and the more images I saw, the more concern I had about what was happening with these new people coming—and the more concern I heard from my neighbors, friends, and other Christians.

What I didn’t yet understand is that a large portion of the people I saw in the news at that time were not trying to come illegally. Many were coming here to claim asylum, which involves a legal process of presenting oneself on United States soil to ask for protection from violence and persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The right to claim asylum is established in U.S. Code and is longstanding federal law. Once the request has been made and credible fear has been established by border patrol officers trained in this regard, the asylum seeker is to have their case heard before a court that will judge whether or not the petitioner is granted asylum and allowed to stay. 

But, there was something more important at work for me personally than how our country manages its borders, as vital as that is. As I prayed about all of this, I realized that for me as a Christian and as a private citizen who is not a state agent or Border Patrol officer, I should think first about migrants and asylum seekers as people, as those God desires to come to him, and about opportunities to partner with Christians at the border in ministry. I believe that order at the border is an important part of caring for migrants, as well as providing security for a nation’s citizenry, but, while our government has clear responsibilities in maintaining order and security at our border, which we should support and encourage, the church also has a role in ministering to people in the midst of crisis. Border security and order provided by the government is not mutually exclusive to the church engaging in gospel and compassion ministry to those who come to us seeking refuge. 

Remembering how Jesus responded to the crowds who were harassed and helpless, how he was moved with compassion for them, and how he instructed his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers into the harvest field (Matt. 9:35-38) will help frame our views of those who come to our borders seeking help. While some rejected the desperate crowds, Jesus saw people he could minister to and love. We can do the same.

Ministry on both sides of the border

I made my first trip to the border at Nogales, Arizona, in late summer 2018 and then to Tijuana in December of that year to visit ministries that were serving migrants from all over the world. I went to El Paso in 2019. Then, as I moved out to California to pastor a church that year, I went back to Tijuana to view what was happening with churches doing ministry there. I began to see the border as a place where people from many nations gathered and where churches on both sides worked behind the scenes to care for those in need, to pray, and to share the love and gospel of Jesus while people waited for legal entry. 

I learned that many of the people who come to the border are already evangelical Christians or come to faith in Christ as they encounter churches who are opening their sanctuaries, homes, and lives to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers (See World Magazine reporting from Sophia Lee in 2019 explaining border ministry in the Las Cruces-El Paso area). Instead of seeing the border primarily as a place of fear and chaos, I began to also see it as a place where human need and desperation meets the ministry of the church as it holds out the life and hope of Jesus in the midst of a raging storm. God is at work in and through his people in the borderlands. 

In work led by Juvenal Gonzalez working with the San Diego Baptist Association and Mexican Baptist churches, I have seen people from many nations receive food, shelter, love, and the gospel at the El Chaparral Gate in Tijuana while they live in tents and wait. I joined with Ed Litton, current SBC president, and other SBC leaders in August 2021 to connect again with this ministry and to provide care, hope, and breakfast to hundreds of migrants who were there waiting for a chance for their asylum claim to be heard. Recently, Gonzalez and the churches on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border fed and ministered to hundreds of Ukrainian refugees a day who traveled to Tijuana to wait and petition for protection in the U.S. California Baptist Disaster Relief, Send Relief, and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) stepped in and provided assistance as well. 

In October of 2021, I visited the El Paso Migrant Ministry Center at Scotsdale Baptist Church that works in partnership with the El Paso (TX) Baptist Association. I saw a church that transformed their facility to make room for migrants that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol brought to them for care. The ministry center now works with NAMB to receive teams and volunteers from around the country to minister to the dozens of migrants who are brought to them each day. 

I have visited churches and seen ministries in border towns that altered their ministries to make room to provide places for people to stay while they transition to other parts of the country. While I’ve never visited Brownsville, Texas, I’ve heard about the ministry of West Brownsville Baptist Church and others who have cared for and seen many come to Christ through the work of receiving migrants. Just last fall, I heard from Mexican border officials in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, tell us that the churches on the Mexico side were making all the difference in providing care and ministry during the migrant surges. When the Mexican government doesn’t know what to do with the people who come to them, they turn to the churches for physical and spiritual help and resources. The U.S. government often does the same thing.

Christians along the U.S.-Mexico border are acting in the name of Jesus to bring hope and order out of chaos, pain, displacement, rejection, and desperate need. When I ask pastors on both sides of the border why they engage in this ministry of welcome, they are always confused by the question. They’ve told me that they do this because this is what Jesus does and it is who he is. They see no other way to follow him in their context than to welcome and minister to the stranger who comes to them.

This kind of ministry doesn’t just happen along the border. It is happening everywhere, from South Carolina to California. Recently, I spoke with an Afghan man in Northern California who told me that many of the Afghan refugees he’s met know they are being received and treated well in America because of the influence of Christians and churches who follow the Bible and are welcoming and loving from the heart. This man was not a Christian, and he came from a Muslim background, but he said it was clear that the teachings of Jesus had an influence on how Christians welcomed his fellow countrymen. He recounted stories of pastors bringing Afghan refugees to his store to buy supplies for them with their own money. This left an impression on him as he recognized that their faith led them to act in kindness toward others. He let us pray with him at the end of our conversation.

More migrants coming?

We will continue to have opportunities to welcome and minister to immigrants and refugees in the name of Jesus, either at the border or in towns across our country. The COVID-19 pandemic public health order called Title 42, which allowed the U.S. government to suspend asylum law and expel migrants without hearing their claims in court, is set to expire in late May. With this potential change in policy and the possible full renewal of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP or Remain in Mexico), expectations are rising that there will be a significant increase in the number of migrants coming to our southern border seeking asylum and refuge. 

While concern grows over this development, churches on both sides of the border will continue to represent Christ and minister to people in need who come to them. In addition, churches all over the country have the opportunity to join with these border churches and ministries to support their ongoing front-line work in ministering to the sojourner. While our government and Border Patrol have a job to do in keeping order and security as they manage the border, battle cartels and human and drug smuggling, and enforce our laws, the church also has a role in helping those in deep need who enter our country. And, with the arrival of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees over the past several months, along with others from around the world, the opportunities to receive and minister to the nations that have come to us are potentially greater than ever before. To learn more about this, you can watch the recent webinar hosted by the ERLC.

As the world continues to experience wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, corruption, and persecution, Christians in America have an opportunity to welcome refugees fleeing violence and support fellow believers engaging in ministry along both sides of our own southern border. Our first response to migrants and refugees should not be fear or rejection. Instead, we should prayerfully ask God what he might be doing through these circumstances and how we can join him to tell a better story by bearing the burdens of others and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

By / Mar 30

On Mon., March 28, President Biden released his FY 2023 budget proposal. Every year, the president submits his budget proposal, and it serves as a blueprint for the administration’s priorities. A president’s budget proposal has no binding authority over Congress. It is a request and a statement of priorities and serves as a starting point for a long negotiation in Congress as they work on the 12 spending appropriations bills that fund the government. 

The ERLC actively engages in the appropriations process each year, and in the recently released FY23 budget proposal, there are areas of deep concern, but also areas of possible collaboration.

Exclusion of pro-life riders and increased funding for abortion providers

Notably, for only the second time since its inception in 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been excluded from the president’s proposal. The Hyde Amendment is a budget rider on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This rider, along with other pro-life riders, are essential in protecting life as well as the consciences of millions of American taxpayers. 

Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using federal Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed by every Congress. Its success across the generations is not due to a shared belief about abortion but precisely because those representatives and senators believed the disagreement deserved respect. 

Congress should also protect the Weldon (discrimination protections for those with objections to abortion), Dornan (Hyde protections in the District of Columbia), Helms (protection against funds being used for abortion in international aid), Siljander (protection against funds being used to lobby for abortion internationally), and Kamp-Kasten (protection against funds to organizations that support coercive abortion or sterilization) Amendments. It is important to note that although Biden’s FY 2022 budget proposal also excluded these amendments, they were ultimately included in the final appropriations package passed by Congress.

Biden’s budget proposal also includes a request for a 40% increase in additional funding for abortion providers through the Title X Family Planning program. Though these pro-life riders have traditionally kept this funding from directly funding abortion procedures, abortion providers are still able to receive funding through the Title X Family Planning program and other government funds to cover operational costs, allowing them to more easily reserve non-taxpayer dollars for abortion services. Although it is vital for women of any economic status to have access to important healthcare services, abortion — the act of taking a life — is not healthcare.

Inclusion of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity langauge

Throughout the budget proposal, Biden includes multiple proposals that advance “gender equality” on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Efforts to advance SOGI as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back

religious freedom and conscience protections. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.

In the proposal, Biden references several Executive Orders he has signed during his presidency on this topic, including Executive Order 14020, “Establishment of the White House Gender Policy Council,” establishing the first White House Gender Policy Council within the Executive Office of the President and charged the office with leading a government-wide effort to advance gender equity and equality. Last year the administration issued the first ever National Strategy on Gender Equity. As the ERLC noted when that strategy was introduced, “This strategy is not only ambitious, but can be seen as a way for the federal government to expand its authority and influence over everyday life given the sheer breadth of issues included.”

The ERLC will closely be tracking these developments as Congress begins their budget proposal and will advocate against the inclusion of any provision that could hinder the American conscience and religious liberty. 

Rebuilding of the refugee resettlement program and immigration processes

One area where we were pleased to see significant investment in Biden’s budget proposal was in rebuilding the refugee resettlement program and improving our immigration and asylum processes. The proposal includes substantial funding to provide humane and proper care to unaccompanied minors, facilite family reunifications that occurred under the zero-tolerance policy of the previous administration, and support the resettlement of up to 125,000 refugees in FY 2023. The ERLC has long advocated for the United States to resume its global leadership in providing a place of refuge for the vulnerable and for the necessary investments in the refugee resettlement program infrastructure to support that goal. 

Additionally, the president’s budget proposal provides significant funds for improving border security and management while also addressing the significant backlogs in our immigration and asylum systems. One of the most notable developments in addressing these backlogs was an increase of $621 million over last year’s levels in funding for immigration courts, allowing for the hiring of 100 new immigration judges and support personnel. The ERLC supports efforts that make our asylum and immigration systems more fair, just, and humane, and these investments are important steps in that direction.

Fighting food insecurity and the opioid crisis

We were also glad to see the president’s budget proposal place an emphasis on addressing food insecurity and the opioid crisis. The proposal included significant funding for combating poverty-driven food insecurity as well as the opioid epidemic, particularly among veterans. Though increased funding does not always necessitate better outcomes, we affirm the president’s desire to promote human flourishing through combatting the vicious cycle of poverty and the devastating impact of opioid abuse. According to the president’s proposal, the drug overdose epidemic claimed over 100,000 lives in the last fiscal year. The drivers for this epidemic are complex, but the effects are simply tragic. This investment in the prevention of drug abuse, treatment, and recovery, particularly for our nation’s veterans, could be an important step for many families facing this tragedy across the country. 

What’s next?

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin the appropriations process which includes a hearing to discuss budget requests and writing and marking up the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress will therefore have the opportunity to include the Hyde Amendment and other important pro-life riders, as they did in FY 2022. 

Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included and harmful policies are excluded. The ERLC will continuously advocate for the inclusion of these pro-life provisions as well as other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life around the world.

By / Jul 13

Forced displacement is a growing and urgent global crisis. A multitude of conditions, including religious persecution, force people from their homes to pursue safety and the well-being of their families. As the worldwide refugee crisis becomes increasingly dire, churches have an opportunity to profoundly affect displaced people by extending compassion, hospitality, and advocacy. 

Tariq is a refugee from Pakistan who arrived in New York City in 2007. Upon arriving, he connected with an SBC church that helped him settle and assist his family in joining him in the United States. Tariq and his family started a ministry in their neighborhood that serves immigrants in getting settled and integrated into life in the United States. I had the privilege of interviewing Tariq about his family’s journey.

Tell us about your experience in Pakistan before you moved to the United States?

In Pakistan, I worked for a nonprofit called CARITAS, a Catholic organization that serves impoverished communities with assistance in development and poverty alleviation. I worked to coordinate agriculture development and identify community needs to figure out how the nonprofit could help them. Some more extremist groups in Pakistan were opposed to the organization I worked for because it was faith-based. I began receiving threats that if I didn’t cease my community work, I would be killed, and my family would be harmed. My family started receiving threats as well. 

In Pakistan, there are blasphemy laws that are used to persecute religious minorities. These blasphemy laws are often abused. Christians, as well as other minority religions, are often falsely accused. If two people can confirm someone has broken the blasphemy law, an individual can be thrown in jail, even executed, and are often attacked by mobs. 

How did you come to the United States?

Given the threats against my family and me, I decided to flee Pakistan to the United States while my family moved to another place in Pakistan and went into hiding to avoid threats. In 2007, I applied for a visa through my job at the nonprofit. I was connected with someone in New York City who worked for the organization. It took a while to get all of the paperwork confirmed, but I moved to New York once I received my visa. 

What was your experience like when you arrived in the United States?

I felt like a stranger because I was in a new country and didn’t know anything about the city. Thankfully I met a friend from Pakistan who gave me a place to stay for the first year. 

I got connected through a reference to a church called New Hope in Queens. They prayed for my family and me to be able to be reunited. They prayed for me to get a green card and for my wife to get a visa, and both of those eventually happened. They encouraged me. 

They also paid my rent for several months while I could not find work and invited me to share my testimony at church. After a few years, they helped me earn my Master’s degree and begin my career in social work. 

When my wife arrived with our first child in 2010, she felt we should start an organization that could help people in our same position. That year, we created a nonprofit in our community called International Community Care Foundation. Our objective was to support new immigrants to the United States in order to empower them, build their links to communities and churches, and help them adjust to a new home. We also sought to help people who were being persecuted back in Pakistan.

How do you serve other immigrants in your community?

Our church helped us to start our community organization by supporting us financially and with volunteers. We host an ESL program, a children’s program, we connect immigrants to job opportunities, and we help them apply for green cards and citizenship. We have helped over 40 women train in English and eventually get connected to jobs. All of our programs are hosted in our apartment complex. 

We started the children’s program when we realized some moms could not attend because they were watching their children. At the children’s program, we teach English and math, share Bible stories, and put on fun activities. 

The community of immigrants who join us is diverse. We have Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and people from South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. 

What would you like people to know about those who are seeking asylum?

In many countries like Pakistan, life is tough for groups that are persecuted. You are very vulnerable because the blasphemy laws are set up to be used against you at any time. Often women are forcibly converted. It is very dangerous and frightening to be persecuted, but it also puts you in a situation where you lack financial opportunities and often lack basic needs like food. Also, being in that situation can affect your faith, and Christians need encouragement to persevere. I would love to see more people from the United States support and encourage those persecuted worldwide. There are organizations that you can support that help persecuted Christians. 

How can churches support displaced people in the United States?

The support of a church and community can transform a refugee’s life. It certainly transformed my life. The most important thing for me was that I had a community that welcomed me and encouraged me to grow in my faith. This helped me persevere through difficult times. 

Beyond that, financial support and guidance can help get refugees on their feet. It is costly to get legal aid to apply for asylum. It can cost up to $10,000. If you are new to the country, this can be very difficult. Sponsoring someone for asylum is a great way to help. 

Once refugees are established, they can turn around and support other people who are new to the country and need help. Each church can make a significant impact by even helping one person. Also, finding organizations that support refugees and immigrants is a great way for churches to help. 

The answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you would like to learn more about Tariq’s organization, International Community Care Foundation, visit their website, Facebook page, or e-mail [email protected].

To learn more about how the refugee and asylum process works in the United States, visit this ERLC explainer.

By / May 5

Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Matthew Soerens of World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency, to the roundtable to talk about what happened with President Biden’s decision on the refugee admissions ceiling. The group also discusses the Evangelical Immigration Table advocacy both for refugee policy and for solutions to the ongoing migration humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border.

“Rhetoric is no refuge for the persecuted — we need action. The refugee resettlement ceiling should be raised immediately so our nation can welcome those we already vetted. … We know the program is a secure and thorough process by which America can serve as a beacon of freedom and safe harbor for the oppressed, including persecuted Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.” — Russell Moore on April 16, 2021

“I’m thankful President Biden revised his decision on the refugee ceiling. This action is the first step in bringing admissions back to the historical average and our nation back to our own ideals as a beacon of freedom.” — Russell Moore on May 4, 2021

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens serves as the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Advocacy for World Relief and as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations of which both World Relief and the ERLC are founding members. He previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited immigration legal counselor for World Relief’s local office in suburban Chicago. Matthew is the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016) and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Matthew earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College (IL), where he also has served as an adjunct faculty member for the Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership graduate program. He also earned a Master’s degree from DePaul University’s School of Public Service. Originally from Neenah, Wisconsin, he now lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Diana and their four children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Apr 20

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 20, 2021—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, will join former President George W. Bush and Yuval Levin, director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies for the American Enterprise Institute on May 6 at 12:30 p.m. EST for a virtual event on “Immigrants and the American Future.”

The event, a collaboration between the George W. Bush Institute, National Immigration Forum and the ERLC, will feature a conversation moderated by Moore with Levin and President Bush about his upcoming book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of American’s Immigrants,” The book is a collection of 43 portraits, of which Yuval Levin is one of the American immigrants featured, painted by President Bush and accompanying stories that exemplify the promise of America and our proud history as a nation of immigrants.

Members of the press are encouraged to attend and cover this FREE event by registering at the following link.

By / Mar 24

We want to help you think well about immigration, especially as the surge in unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border leads to greater public debate of these issues. Jeff Pickering, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Travis Wussow welcome Jonathan Hayes, a former federal official, to the roundtable to explain how our government shelters unaccompanied migrant children. Hayes served as Director of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied migrant children.

“Yet again, the situation at the southern border ought to remind us that unaccompanied migrant children are not a mere problem to be solved. They bear the image of God, and are endowed by him with dignity and worth. Jesus loves them, and so should we. These kinds of problems will persist at our border for as long as our immigration system is allowed to languish in incoherence. A better path forward will require government leaders — both in Congress and the administration — coming together in an honest search for solutions based on long-term strategies. In the meantime, we should do everything we can do, through both Christian ministry and government policy, to help alleviate the suffering of those who are attempting to flee violence in their home countries.” – Russell Moore on March 18, 2021

Guest Biography

Jonathan Hayes served as the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Administration for Children & Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services until March 2020 when he transitioned to the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response until January 2021. Prior to joining HHS, Jonathan served as chief of staff to two members of Congress spanning over eight years. Additionally, he has experience in the private sector working in broadcast television, sales and marketing, business development, international trade and customs and commercial airline operations. Jonathan received his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and minor in political science from Florida State University. Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, and raised in Panama City, Florida, he now lives in northern Virginia with his wife Tammy and their five children. He is also an elder at McLean Presbyterian Church.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Mar 19

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Jenn discuss the Georgia massage parlor shootings, the White house no longer getting daily COVID-19 tests, federal efforts reducing poverty, and March Madness. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including the Policy Staff with “Explainer: The crisis unaccompanied minors are facing at the border,” Jordan Wooten with “Does the value of children depend on their usefulness? Children are a gift not a liability,” and David Dunham with “Why addicts must learn to practice honesty: Deception’s role in aiding addiction.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Jenn Kintner for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Jenn

Jenn Kintner serves as the Office Coordinator for the Nashville office of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. She holds a Doctorate of Education from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to her work at the ERLC she spent 10 years discipling and teaching women in Christian higher education. You can connect with her on Twitter: @jennkintner

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Georgia massage parlor shootings: What we know
  2. White supremacy and hate are haunting Asian Americans
  3. Suspect in Atlanta-area spa shootings might have intended more shootings in Florida, mayor says
  4. White House staff no longer tested for Covid-19 daily
  5. Explainer: New federal efforts could reduce poverty in America
  6. Chelsea & Michael Sobolik adoption
  7. March Madness returns

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By / Mar 16

A growing number of children are arriving at the southern border without parents or guardians in hopes of migrating into the United States. These child migrants are legally referred to as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs). This surge in arrivals of UACs is creating a humanitarian crisis out of an already difficult situation for border towns and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as U.S. Border Patrol facilities are stretched far beyond their capacity.

How many children are arriving at the U.S. southern border?

According to a report from CBS, in the month of February 2021 alone, “nearly 9,500 unaccompanied children were taken into U.S. border custody — a 21-month high, according to government data.” As of March 2, a complex in Donna, Texas that was designed to hold 250 people was housing more than 1,800 people according to a report from the Associated Press. This crowding is made worse because of the battle against COVID-19 as it is “729% of its pandemic-era capacity.” In a story published by CNN, Leecia Welch of the National Center for Youth Law said, “Donna is quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis.”

Earlier today, March 16, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement noting that the department is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”

What are the conditions like for children on the border?

Many of the children in this facility describe harsh conditions and hunger. The CBS report noted that some children told their lawyers they “only showered once in seven days” and that the facility was so overcrowded “they had to take turns sleeping on the floor.” The situation’s urgency grows as the boys and girls are also reportedly being denied the ability to phone their parents or see their siblings of the opposite sex as they are held in single gender facilities. 

How is this connected to America’s larger immigration problem?

First, the challenges of this current crisis are in part the result of President Biden’s decision to end former President Trump’s practice of expelling all border aphrensions, which included sending children back into situations of potential danger. Expulsion was the policy in place for most of 2020 without much public awareness, though the ERLC and coalition partners then called the Trump Administration to take a more humane approach, specifically for vulnerable children.

While this 2021 crisis is new in its particulars, the situation does have similarities with previous UAC surges. As an example of a similar crisis, after an AP report in 2019 showed unconscionable conditions for children at a border facility near El Paso, the ERLC published an explainer to give further context to the issues which shape these problems. The piece also outlines how migrant children are treated differently by immigration law and what reforms could blunt future issues.

Today, both the strain on border facilities and the woes facing these kids are distressingly familiar to what our nation has seen too many times. This 2021 crisis is yet another result of the dysfunctional immigration system in the U.S. that Congress has refused to reform for decades. Our nation’s border problems have been exacerbated over the last decade in particular by spikes of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras coupled with increasing resistance in American politics to foriegn aid. It’s difficult for most Americans to imagine how desperate a family’s circumstance must be to choose to send their children on a dangerous journey unaccompanied in hopes of a better life.

What is going wrong right now?

As the AP reported, “more children are waiting longer in Border Patrol custody,” with 37 days being the average length of stay. This time lapse is the key failure of this crisis — the failure to process children swiftly into the stable care required by federal law.

Unaccompanied children are to be processed by DHS and transferred within three to five days to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). We wrote about the unique legal treatment our government is supposed to honor with UACs in our 2019 explainer:

At the center of the government’s policies toward child migrants is a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. Flores directs that children who are unaccompanied or who have been removed from their parents during the process of immigrating are to be transferred to a licensed facility within three to five days of apprehension, and a max of 20 days during times of emergency influx, according to the nonprofit Human Rights First. . . . The Flores Settlement also lays out housing condition standards, including the requirement of “safe and sanitary facilities” among many others, all while the government makes a “prompt and continuous effort toward family reunification and release” for children.

What is the U.S. government doing about the issue?

It is clear that there is not yet a sufficient federal government response to ensure the adequate care of these children. On March 13, the Biden Administration announced it was enlisting FEMA to help. The administration is also planning to shelter migrant children at a conference center in Dallas, as they await processing with HHS ORR. For more, you can read Sec. Mayorkas’ statement highlighting the department’s actions. Their plans include standing up more shelters, working with Mexico to receive expelled adult migrants, and a variety of COVID19 protocols for migrants and DHS staff. 

How has the SBC engaged the immigration reform debate?

In 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for immigration reform that “maintains the priority of family unity.” This resolution prioritizes “honoring the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families” in light of the “warfare, violence, disease, extreme poverty … driving millions of people to leave their homelands.” The 2018 messengers also passed a resolution on human dignity in which the messengers affirmed “the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone.” In 2011, SBC messengers passed a resolution denouncing the mistreatment of migrants and calling for immigration reform that would “implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status.”

The resolutions on immigration echo the language of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which affirms the sacredness and dignity of human beings made in God’s image. The BFM also affirms Christians’ responsibility to speak on behalf of the helpless and the needy and work for human institutions to reflect God’s righteousness. 

How is the ERLC advocating on this issue?

The ERLC has long advocated for immigration reform that would accord with biblical principles. In 2014, Russell Moore wrote about the growing number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border then, calling it a “humanitarian crisis” and calling Christians to “recognize both the complexity of this situation and what it means to be people of justice and mercy.” Moore’s words continue to anchor our advocacy today:

When responding to the vulnerable, our greatest obstacle isn’t the question of knowing what to do. Our greatest obstacle is fear. The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable (Lk. 10:27-37) has every reason to be afraid on the Road to Jericho. The presence of a beaten man tells him there are robbers around, potentially hiding in the caves around him. Fear, though, is cast out by love; love is not cast out by fear. … The situation at the southern border is frightening indeed, for multiple reasons. Border security is important for the physical safety of any nation, and the care of those fleeing danger is important for the moral integrity of any people.

Central to our advocacy is our work with the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT). The EIT is a diverse group of organizations that speak up for the vulnerable and call for better policies. A few policies the EIT has called for to address these border crises involving children include supplemental funding for facilities, additional personnel trained to care for children, respect for asylum laws and family unity, and restoration of foreign aid to the countries these migrants are fleeing.

A few weeks ago on the Capitol Conversations podcast, as news began to surface of this impending crisis, Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcomed Laura Collins, an immigration expert with the George W. Bush Institute, to discuss border policy solutions. You can listen to that conversation here.

What happens next?

The federal government must ensure that children currently in border patrol custody are transferred as soon as possible to HHS ORR who is better equipped to shelter as well as test and quarantine the children if needed due to the pandemic. Once with HHS ORR, the children are then connected with sponsors, who are typically family members but can also include foster families. According to Sec. Mayorkas, “in more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian.”

What is clear is that additional resources are needed at the border to ensure that children who arrive here are safe, fed, and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as our legal system determines the best way forward for them.