By / Feb 6

A long-awaited bipartisan border proposal has arrived for consideration in the U.S. Senate this week. After months of negotiations, Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) released the text of their proposal that would bring about significant changes to the United States border and asylum system, while being paired with the national security supplemental funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the southern border. As the legislative text was finalized over the last several weeks, it has been backed by Senate leadership of both parties as well as President Biden. But, upon release, the proposal is facing sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Southern Baptists have spoken to the issue of immigration for decades, calling on Congress to secure our borders while upholding principles of compassion and human dignity. 

What is included in this bipartisan border bill?

This sweeping bill contains a number of significant provisions as it relates to border and asylum policy as well as avenues for legal migration. Some of these provisions include:

  • Funding for detention: Many migrants are not currently detained, but rather paroled into the U.S., because of a lack of space in detention facilities. This bill provides $7.6 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), $3.2 billion of which is dedicated to increasing detention capacity.
  • Funding for border patrol: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) face incredible staffing shortages and do not have the current resources to process and screen all who are arriving at the border. This bill provides $6.766 billion to CBP, giving them the ability to hire additional agents, improve technology for finding fentanyl, and to address trafficking-related issues.
  • Major changes to the asylum system: Current U.S. law guarantees a right to seek asylum for individuals who step foot on U.S. soil. Because of that, many individuals who do not have valid asylum claims have flooded the asylum system, seeing it as their only viable option to enter the U.S. Unfortunately, because of backlogs, many of these individuals are in the U.S. for many years before their asylum claims are eventually denied.  This proposal speeds up the adjudication process while also requiring a higher burden of proof in initial asylum screenings—a policy long sought by advocates seeking to curtail illegal immigration. Additionally, with faster adjudication of claims, the bill provides guidance for carrying out quicker expulsion and deportation for those who do not qualify. One change, flagged by critics, includes work permits for many who apply for asylum and HHS-provided lawyers for unaccompanied children under 14 to navigate this process.
  • New “border shutdown” authority: One of the most significant and most misunderstood portions of the bill would create a new border emergency authority. As described in the authors’ summary, “The ‘border emergency authority’ may be exercised if the 7-day average number of cumulative encounters of inadmissible aliens is between 4,000 and 5,000 per day and must be exercised if the 7-day average is above 5,000 per day. Exercise of the authority is also required if the number of encounters on a single day exceeds 8,500. Unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries are not included in the total number of encounters for the purposes of this section. When use of the emergency authority is authorized, the Secretary has the authority to prohibit the entry into the U.S. of all individuals, except unaccompanied minors, between ports of entry and may only screen individua ls for eligibility for withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Concurrently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is required to continue processing a minimum of 1,400 inadmissible aliens per day across southwest land ports of entry under expedited removal or the 235B non-custodial removal proceedings contained in this title, ensuring that access to the asylum system remains available.”
  • Border wall: This bill would require the Biden administration to continue construction of the border wall with Mexico. While the policy was most prominent during former President Trump’s administration, initial construction of various portions of a border fence began under former President George H. W. Bush.
  • Anti-fentanyl measures: In addition to funding for new fentanyl screening technology, the bill also includes policies aimed at curbing the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. It also provides funding to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aggressively target cartels involved in smuggling fentanyl. 
  • Afghan Adjustment Act: In 2021, the U.S. assisted many Afghans, including many of our military allies, in fleeing to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Since then, these individuals have been in the country without any pathway to a permanent status. The bill includes the Afghan Adjustment Act which would provide such a pathway following additional screening.
  • Additional visas: The bill authorizes an additional 250,000 immigrant visas over the next five years divided between those coming for employment-based reasons and those seeking to reunify with family. 

In addition to these immigration-related provisions, the bill includes funding for assistance to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region, and to restoring U.S. military readiness. 

If you’d like more details about the contents of this bill, you can read a full summary here.

Why is this significant?

The current situation at the southern border is untenable. In December of 2023, there were over 300,000 individuals encountered at the border, the highest number ever recorded. This flow of migrants is overwhelming the American resources at the border to process, screen, detain, and care for those who are arriving. As our ERLC team observed when we visited the border in 2022, U.S. border patrol officers are desperately in need of additional resources and help.

Compared to current levels, these proposed reforms would provide meaningful assistance to border patrol and those tasked with securing our border while making changes that could significantly reduce the number of migrants who initially qualify for asylum. Along with increased detention capacity and faster adjudication, these changes could make progress toward ending so-called “catch and release.” Senator Lankford termed the new policies “detain and deport.”

Additionally, though the president does have substantial authority in deciding border-related policies, that power is limited by existing law that guarantees those who arrive on U.S. soil the right to request asylum. The proposed changes to asylum coupled with the new “border shutdown” authority could provide the executive branch with increased powers to severely limit the number of individuals accepted into the U.S., particularly at times when border resources are overwhelmed. 

No significant updates have been made to the U.S. immigration system or border security laws since the 1980s. When compared to current law, these proposals would mark a meaningful shift in U.S. policy and provide new power to the executive branch.

How does this compare to what Southern Baptists have said about immigration?

At the 2023 Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists passed a resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration.” This resolution followed many others passed by Southern Baptists over the past decades. Relevant parts of the most recent resolution read:

RESOLVED, That we ask our government leaders to provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers regarding border policies, legal entry into this country, and work opportunities; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge and to create legal pathways to permanent status for immigrants who are in our communities by no fault of their own, prioritizing the unity of families; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage elected officials to prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States; and be it further

Southern Baptist Resolution ‘On Wisely Engaging Immigration’

On many of these counts, this legislation is in line with these requests. This proposal would offer clearer guidance to those coming to the border, laying out new policies regarding work authorizations and vowing quick expulsion for those without valid asylum claims. Though some may disagree about the efficacy of various measures in securing the border, this is certainly a step forward from the current chaos (though some feel it does not enhance security measures enough). In addition to providing resources and policy changes that would make the border more secure, the proposal retains key narrow avenues for those with valid asylum claims to make their case. In nearly all changes within the bill, special care and attention is given to the unique situation of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Though the bill does provide some new legal avenues for those who would come to the U.S. and includes a pathway to permanent status for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan, a measure that the ERLC has long advocated for, it does not provide any path forward for the broader undocumented population or for Dreamers, the young immigrants brought here as children. Some opponents of the proposal have called it a blanket amnesty plan, though no such provisions exist.

What happens next for this bipartisan border proposal?

Members of both parties have pushed back on this proposal. Three Democratic Senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, immediately signaled their disapproval of the bill. House Republican leaders released a statement saying consideration of the proposal would be a “waste of time” in their chamber. Support quickly faded from several Senate Republicans as well. While some don’t believe that the bill is strong enough on border security, others argue against addressing the issue of the southern border in an election year.

At this point, the path forward looks highly tenuous for this proposal though attempts to amend it could be made in the legislative process. Currently, the Senate is expected to take an initial procedural vote on the bill on Wednesday. If the supplemental is unable to move forward, it raises the important question of what happens next in regards to defense funding for Ukraine, Israel, the Pacific, and the border. It should be noted funding deadlines for the government are set for March. 

Setting aside the uncertain path forward for the proposal, we are thankful for the hard work of Senator Lankford, a Southern Baptist, as well as Sens. Murphy and Sinema. Finding bipartisan consensus on an issue as fraught as immigration is no easy task, and initial responses prove as much. These Senators have put forth a serious proposal for an urgent problem. As our nation grapples with many challenging matters, including this one, we need more lawmakers willing to do the difficult work of legislating.

By / Dec 20

Since its creation 12 years ago, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Unaccompanied Child (UAC) program has helped 410,000 children who have arrived at our borders without a parent or legal guardian by providing basic services and placing such children with foster families. Federal law provides that the ORR through the UAC program is responsible for “coordinating and implementing the care and placement,” “identifying a sufficient number of qualified individuals, entities, and facilities to house,” and “overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of facilities” as needed to ensure these children are placed in safe environments, free of exploitation. In November, the ORR released proposed rulemaking that both provided helpful updates and added concerning measures regarding abortion and “gender transitions” to ORR’s guidelines.

The ERLC responded to this proposal by submitting comments in response to the proposed rule, requesting that the ORR review and revise the rule and remove concerning elements that violated religious liberty protections, conscience rights, and endanger the preborn.

Southern Baptists have stated our desire to see meaningful government policy enacted that ensures clear borders and clear legal pathways while protecting the lives of children made in God’s image and worthy of protection and care. In the resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration” earlier this year, Southern Baptists committed to “urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States.” 

Beneficial proposals

The ORR states that under this proposed rule,

“ORR would be required to plan and provide care and services based on the individual needs of and focusing on the strengths of the unaccompanied child … these collaborative approaches to care provision allow for the recognition of each child’s specific needs and strengths while providing opportunities for unaccompanied children to become more empowered, resilient, and self-efficacious.”

This shows a shift toward a more individualized placement approach within the ORR, leading to better care and protection for these children who may have undergone trauma, abuse, or various other forms of neglect prior to arrival.

As we stated in our comments,

this proposed rule does much good in establishing stronger standards to ensure that these vulnerable children are not exploited and receive proper care. This proposed rule helpfully codifies many standards and practices established in the Flores settlement, individualizes assessment in placements to prioritize the best interest of the child, improves standards for placements that will assist in preventing trafficking, and increases legal representation for these unaccompanied children.

Three primary concerns

The ERLC flagged three primary types of concerns related to abortion, religious liberty, and “gender transition” issues.

Firstly, the ORR explicitly states that the office would continue to fund abortion-related travel for minors in the UAC program. While the ORR claims this is permissible under current appropriations law, the ERLC and pro-life advocacy partners have argued that it is not permissible, with the ERLC stating in the submitted comments:

As the ERLC has repeatedly advocated, abortion-related travel is inherently included as a prohibited measure under the Hyde Amendment since doing so subsidizes the abortion industry with federal funding. There is no meaningful argument the ORR can make to separate abortion from abortion-related travel, and this type of argument has not proven successful in circumventing other federal appropriations restrictions.

Additionally, the ORR does not make any attempt to retain conscience and other religious liberty protections for ORR staffers and foster care parents whose deeply held beliefs may be infringed upon as a result of these newly established guidelines. For example, ORR staffers and foster parents will likely be required to aid in ensuring unaccompanied minor children have access to abortion under the proposed rule. Although the rule states that the program is operated in compliance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it is not specified how the agency actually intends to navigate conflict between this proposed rule and the religious liberty protections provided in RFRA.

Lastly, the ORR includes a provision whereby an unaccompanied child is able to request medical services “requiring heightened ORR involvement” and potentially requiring transport across state lines. While the rule does not specifically state “gender transition” procedures and prescriptions are included within this definition, it also does not specify which types of medical services would require such heightened ORR involvement. In keeping with a larger agenda of the Biden administration, it is clear that such language is intended to circumvent laws prohibiting such “gender transitions” in some states.

How does this issue affect Southern Baptists?

Thousands of Southern Baptists have fostered children, launched foster care organizations, and created ministries in their congregations to support the physical and financial needs of foster families. Additionally, congregations across the country have hosted training for foster families to ensure they are trauma informed and have all the knowledge and resources they need to be “safe and appropriate” placements for children in crisis.

Since these unaccompanied children will be placed into foster care, it’s likely this issue will directly affect the religious liberty of Southern Baptists faithfully living out our deeply held religious convictions.

As Southern Baptists, we believe that caring for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children, is deeply connected to our faith, and we desire to see these children provided with proper care. The necessary and helpful work the ORR does should remain so without capitulating to an agenda that harms the very children we desire to see protected. We encourage fellow Southern Baptists to join us in praying that this rule is revised, for opportunities to equip and care for the foster families serving these children, and for God to continue to grant his wisdom to the staff members of the ORR in ensuring safe and protected environments for these children.

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