Thank you to those who organized today’s briefing, and for all who have taken time to show support for refugees. I am honored to speak today on behalf of evangelical Christians who along with many other Americans care deeply about the 65 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the world who have fled their homes due to violence, persecution and terrorism.
Evangelical Christians are often not well understood. When asked I often explain that evangelicals are people who take the Bible seriously and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. When we read the Bible, we find God establishing cities of refuge, and laws that require hospitality to immigrants, care for the vulnerable, and justice for the persecuted. We hear the words of Jesus telling us that when we share our food with the hungry, and our homes with the refugee, we are serving Jesus himself. We see the example of the Good Samaritan who risked danger and crossed racial and cultural lines to help a stranger who had been ambushed.
We also read in the Bible that government is a gift from God for our good and for our protection. As evangelicals and as Americans, we do not take for granted the peace, freedom and security that we enjoy. We are deeply grateful for the vigilance of those who daily risk their own lives to protect ours. And we appreciate that our president wishes to keep us safe, and seeks to be proactive in preventing terrorist attacks, rather than simply responding to attacks after the fact. We share that goal.
However, in pursuing the goal of security, we must not betray our deepest values, by disregarding the sanctity of human life or by closing our doors to the persecuted who seek protection. The Bible is clear that God blesses nations and individuals who uphold justice and righteousness and defend the vulnerable. The call to love our neighbor always entails a degree of risk, but the risk to our souls, and to our national character, is much greater if we fail to do what we can, and what we know is right, to help those who are in desperate need.
We cannot guarantee that no refugee will do us harm. But our track record over the past 37 years since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980 is impressive: 3 million refugees have been resettled from all regions of the world, including particularly from countries with which we had been at war, either the hot wars in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, or the Cold War against communism. Thanks to security screenings and clearances that have increased exponentially since 9/11, to date, zero Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by a resettled refugee. Let’s consider why that may be:
First, the people we are resettling are those fleeing violence and conflict, not those seeking to perpetrate it. The U.S. refugee resettlement program has always prioritized first the refugees who are the most vulnerable throughout the world, and second those with family ties or who are of particular humanitarian concern to the U.S. These are, in the main, people who love America, and who love freedom. Like immigrants who come here voluntarily, refugees overwhelming express deep gratitude for the opportunity to rebuild their lives in peace and freedom. Refugees have fled terror and violence. The last thing they would want to do is to perpetuate violence in their new homeland. They are our most patriotic citizens.
Second, a lengthy and robust security screening system carefully vets refugees who are being considered for resettlement in the United States. This screening system takes place overseas, far from our shores. Our situation is much different from that currently faced in Europe, where large numbers of refugees have arrived with little or no opportunity for screening. Refugees from most of the world’s hot spots cannot walk to America: We are separated by two large oceans. When a refugee boards a plane to be resettled in the United States, it is the last step in a lengthy process that normally takes two years and sometimes much more. They at that point represent a lower risk to the security of their new neighbors than in many cases native born Americans.
Evangelicals care deeply about the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world. In the Middle East, which is the birthplace of Christianity, Christians now represent just 4 percent of the population, down from 20 percent just a generation or two ago. Persecuted Christians have been neglected in both humanitarian assistance and resettlement, and we welcome greater attention to their needs.
However, we do not support a religious test for refugees, and believe that our national goal should continue to be the resettlement of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. In any case, a total moratorium on refugees strands Christian, Muslim, and other refugees alike. We urge President Trump, with the full support of the United States Congress, to immediately reinstate our nation’s refugee resettlement program, which is desperately needed for such a time as this. Our system is complex, and abruptly stopping and restarting operations is expensive, disruptive and unnecessary. We welcome a further review of our security and vetting systems, which can take concurrently with ongoing resettlement.
The U.S. refugee resettlement program is the crown jewel of American humanitarianism. Since 1980, a unique public-private partnership has saved the lives of the most vulnerable people in the world. It is a finely tuned system with many moving parts that must be protected. It brings together the efforts of churches, community groups, and volunteers with local, state and federal government each doing its part.
As a nation, we have been repaid for our compassion and generosity with the hard work, dedication, loyalty, and patriotism of some 3 million new Americans, and their children and grandchildren. Millions of Americans have been inspired by their examples of faith and their stories of courage. And billions more around the world hold the United States in higher esteem because of our noble humanitarian work. It is a win/win for us, for refugees, and for the world. We pray that God will guide the president, members of Congress, and all our leaders, as they serve our nation at this critical time.