Christians fleeing religious persecution abroad are increasingly denied access to safety in the U.S., according to a new report urging the Trump administration to reverse the trend.
The U.S. is on track to accept 90% fewer Christian refugees in 2020 than five years earlier from countries where Christians are most persecuted, and is considering changes to eligibility requirements for asylum seekers that would drastically reduce their entry here, Open Doors USA and World Relief said in its joint report released July 10.
“Since the Refugee Act of 1980, more than 3 million refugees have come to the United States,” World Relief CEO Tim Breene said in a webinar releasing the report. “But in recent years the U.S. government has dramatically reduced its commitment to refugee resettlement.”
Open Doors CEO David Curry, describing Open Doors as a non-political group, said President Donald Trump’s administration’s protection of religious freedoms should also extend to refugees.
“I have no problem applauding the way this State Department has addressed religious liberty,” Curry said in response to a question from the press. “This is a shortcoming. The secretary of state and others within the State Department need to recognize now, three years into this administration, that they have fallen down on this issue.
“This is an opportunity for them to really, I think, speak to … people of faith around the world whose lives are in danger, who have been unsettled from their homes, targeted by governments, targeted by extremist groups,” Curry said. “This is an opportunity for them and they need to step up.”
The report, “Closed Doors: Persecuted Christians and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Processes,” relies on data from several sources, including the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, and focuses on refugees from the 50 countries on the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List of Christian persecution.
The U.S. has lowered the cap on the number of refugees, of all faiths, who can be accepted here. Under the 1980 Refugee Act, the president has the right to determine the cap, which averaged 95,000 annually from 1980-2016, but now stands at 18,000, the report said.
Midway through the 2020 calendar year, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 950 Christians from the 50 World Watch List countries, and if the current rate continues, 1,900 Christians would be granted refugee resettlement here. In 2015, the U.S. accepted 18,000 Christian refugees, the report stated.
Refugees are defined as those who have left their country of origin, have a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin or membership in a particular social group, and are unable to secure protection from their local governments. Asylum seekers are those who profess to meet the definition of a refugee, but whose claims have not been verified by governmental authority.
While nearly 39,000 asylum seekers were accepted into the U.S. in 2018, either by the Department of Homeland Security or by an immigration judge, changes in U.S. law have made it increasingly difficult for asylum seekers to gain access to due process. The report cites the Migrant Protection Protocols that require asylum seekers from Mexico to remain in dangerous conditions there, awaiting their asylum hearings. In 2020, 18 of the top 30 countries of nationality for those granted asylum by an immigration judge were on the 2020 World Watch List.
Open Doors will follow up its report by meeting with the U.S. State Department, will ask International Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to include Open Doors in a July 14 roundtable, and will send the report to pertinent Senate and House committees.
Open Doors and World Relief are asking the U.S. government to constantly prioritize the advancement of international religious freedom, to leverage diplomatic pressure in urging all countries to reduce religious persecution, to restore the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program to at least a historically normal ceiling such as 95,000, to ensure that those persecuted for their faith continue to have access to the resettlement program alongside those persecuted for other reasons, and to reject changes in asylum processing.
Open Doors and World Relief also encouraged U.S. Christians to pray for persecuted Christians throughout the world, and for displaced people of all faiths.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)