By Donna Provencher-
A Christian Syrian family fleeing Turkish military operations arrives at a refugee camp in Mosul, Iraq, Oct. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Refugee rights organizations say Donald Trump previously pledged to help Christian refugees but has failed them.
On Wednesday, hours before the start of the new fiscal year, Donald Trump slashed the number of refugees to be allowed into the United States to an all-time low, drawing the ire of groups devoted to the rights of those fleeing religious persecution.
The Trump administration will cap the number of refugees accepted at only 15,000 this fiscal year, a historically low number, citing the “ongoing COVID-19 pandemic” by way of rationale.
The White House occupant has repeatedly decreased the quota, mostly recently last year, from 35,000 to 18,000, already a record low.
Leaders of Christian refugee rights and resettlement organizations have condemned this step as a massive breach of promises made to religious refugees.
Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, noted that soon after he took office, Donald Trump specifically promised to protect Christian refugees in the Middle East.
“Instead, we’ve seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90%, in some cases, over the last four years,” said Arbeiter. “This is unconscionable.”
John McCullough, head of the Church World Service, decried Trump for “cruel, racist, and partisan goals” in a statement that said the proposed refugee resettlement number — 80% lower than “historic norms” — is “unacceptable.”
“Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger,” McCullough added.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a national resettlement agency, said that at a time of “unprecedented global need,” Trump’s decision to slash the refugee cap is “a complete abdication of our humanitarian and moral duty.”
“Let this serve as a wake-up call to those who believe this administration supports avenues of legal immigration,” she said.
Joe F. Vasquez, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, has called the Trump administration refugee caps “deeply disturbing.”
“To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation,” Vasquez said.
But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has insisted, in the teeth of the evidence, that the United States remains an exemplary model of refugee relief.
“We continue to be the single-greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world,” Pompeo recently remarked. “We will continue to do so, certainly so long as President Trump is in office.”
But his claims are belied by Trump’s own words, as when he earlier this week threatened Minnesotans would see a “historic flood of refugees” if they voted for Biden. The Democratic nominee would turn the state into a “refugee camp,” he said, “overcrowding schools” and “inundating” hospitals.
Trump’s broken promises to religious refugees are well documented.
Just after Trump assumed office, he told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christians in the Middle East had been “horribly treated” and that he would make it a priority to protect them from religious persecution.
“We are going to help them,” he said of Christians fleeing Syria.
At the 2017 World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that vow.
“Protecting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration,” Pence said.
But it wasn’t long before Trump sent ICE to round up, detain, and attempt to deport Iraqi nationals living in the United States — mostly Chaldean Christians, but Kurdish and Sunni Muslims as well.
In fact, the ACLU uncovered documents indicating the United States had actively colluded with the Iraqi government in the process of deporting those refugees back to a country where they would almost certainly face religious persecution.
But it wasn’t always this way. For three decades prior to Trump, the refugee ceiling had not been set below 70,000.
And there’s still hope for the United States to reverse course.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has promised if elected to restore the quota to a more compassionate 125,000.