Faith groups ask government to reconsider historically low refugee cap



U.S. Catholic bishops and other faith groups are objecting to reports that the
Trump administration will limit the number of refugees the United States
accepts to 45,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

It would be the lowest
admission level for persons fleeing persecution that the U.S. has accepted
since the executive branch was allowed to set the caps in 1980 under the
Refugee Act, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

“We are disturbed and
deeply disappointed by the proposed presidential determination number of 45,000,”
said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“While the Catholic bishops,
Catholic Charities, and Catholic communities across the country join in
welcoming all of those refugees to American communities with joy and open arms,
we are gravely concerned for the tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable
refugees left behind by this decision,” he said in a Sept. 29 statement.

“As I have stated before,
this decision has very severe human consequences — people with faces, names,
children and families are suffering and cannot safely or humanely remain where
they are until the war and persecution in their countries of origin gets
resolved,” Bishop Vasquez said.

“These people
include at-risk women and children; frightened youth; the elderly; those whose
lives are threatened because of their religion, ethnicity or race; and refugees
seeking family reunification with loved ones in the United States,” he

David Robinson, executive
director of Jesuit Refugee Service, called the 45,000 figure a “shamefully
low number.”

Robinson said in a Sept.
27 statement that setting such a low goal “is a retreat from global
leadership and undermines both our interests and our values. Our faith calls us
to be compassionate, and this unprecedented policy is in direct opposition to
the belief that we should welcome the stranger, especially the victims of war,
terror and oppression.”

The limit comes at a time
when one in every 113 people in the world is facing displacement from their
home country because of conflicts, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees, or UNHCR. Last year, the agency said 65 million people around the
world suffered that type of displacement.

“With historically
high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States
response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our
country,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and
advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said Sept. 27.

Bishop Vasquez said the
U.S. Catholic bishops are urging the Trump administration “to welcome and
resettle every one of the refugees eventually authorized” for fiscal year
2018. “Looking ahead, we strongly urge the administration next year to
return to the level of resettling at least 75,000 refugees annually to the
United States,” he added. “We can and must do better.”

Other faith groups,
including the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the second-largest
refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., said it was “profoundly
disappointed” at the reduction.

When the Refugee Act of
1980 went into effect, the U.S. set the cap at over 231,000 refugees. Though it
has declined steadily since then, the country has accepted between 70,000 to
80,000 displaced persons each year for almost two decades. President Barack
Obama set the cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 during his last year in the
White House.

In his first executive
order as president, Donald Trump, set the cap at 50,000 and said any more than
that “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Just as they did then,
many faith communities still disagree with the president.

“Churches and
communities, employers and mayors are heartsick at the administration’s callous
and tragic decision to deny welcome to refugees most in need,” said Linda
Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“We are not afraid
of our new neighbors and are not fooled by cruel and false claims that refugees
are a threat to our safety,” she said Sept. 27. “The American legacy of
welcoming refugees has made us stronger and better, and the government’s own
research proves that refugees bring economic benefit to our country through
their hard work.”

In his statement, Bishop
Vasquez noted that “each refugee that comes to the United States is admitted
through an extensive vetting system. Many of these refugees already have family
in the United States, and most begin working immediately to rebuild their
lives; in turn contributing to the strength and richness of our society.

“God has blessed our
country with bounty and precious liberty,” he continued, “and so we
have great capacity to welcome those in such desperate need, while ensuring our
nation’s security.”

Bishop Vasquez noted that
on Sept. 27, when the Trump administration released its recommendation for the
45,000-cap on refugees, that same day Pope Francis “exhorted us to ‘reach
out, open your arms to migrants and refugees, share the journey.'”

At the Vatican, the pope
launched the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign of Catholic
charities around the world to promote encounters between people on the move and
people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving

“We urge the administration
to move past this period of intensified scrutiny and skepticism of the U.S.
refugee program, which serves as an international model,” Bishop Vasquez
said. “This is a moment of opportunity to restore America’s historic
leadership as a refuge for those fleeing persecution.”

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article