America: Home to persecuted?

In 1980, Neil Diamond released a song called “America.” It spoke about immigrants and refugees coming to this country “on the boats and on the planes. … Never looking back again.”

Historically, those immigrants and refugees included Christians escaping religious persecution. Unfortunately, the lyrics no longer represent reality in this country.

It is under this mantle of concern that two humanitarian organizations issued a joint report July 10 that reveals a 90% reduction in the number of Christians resettled in the United States since 2015 from countries where they face persecution.

“As Christians, we’re concerned about the wellbeing of all people who have faced persecution, including the many who are persecuted for their Christian faith,” said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization that serves refugees and other displaced people. “While we can and should do all we can to advance religious liberty abroad, we must also continue to offer refuge to those who have felt they had no choice but to flee. We must not close our nation’s doors on the persecuted.”

World Relief teamed up with Open Doors USA, an international religious freedom watchdog group, to publish the joint report. In addition to Christians, resettlement for other religious minorities, including Jewish refugees from Iran, Yezidi refugees from Iraq and Muslim refugees from Burma, have also seen their numbers reduced by more than 90% since 2015.

The two agencies state that the drop in welcoming these refugees is a “consequence of major changes to our nation’s historical approach to refugee resettlement.”

“The global reality is that more people than ever before are facing discrimination, violence and even death because of their choice to practice their faith,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA. “Religious persecution is not an isolated problem. It overlaps with an array of issues that together impact Christians.”

In 2015, the United States admitted more than 18,000 Christians from the 50 countries on the Open Doors USA’s “World Watch List” for the persecution of Christians. As of this summer, fewer than 950 have been admitted.

The dramatic drop in refugee resettlement is a result of U.S. policy under the Trump administration. According to the Pew Research Center, the ceiling for refugee resettlement has dropped each year: 53,700 in fiscal year (FY) 2017; 45,000 in FY 2018; 22,500 in FY 2019; and 18,000 in FY 2020, which started Oct. 1, 2019.

On July 9, three U.S. Catholic bishops who chair committees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), joined nine other Christian leaders in writing a letter to Trump and Michael Pompeo, secretary of state. The letter urged Trump to raise the number of refugees admitted into the United States.

“We view this as an issue of extreme importance, especially given the precipitous decline of resettlement of refugees facing religious persecution in recent years,” they wrote. “For example, the number of Iraqi Christians resettled declined 94.2% from FY 2016 to FY 2019, from 1,524 individuals to 89 individuals; and the number of Jewish refugees resettled from Iran declined 97.2% from FY 2016 to FY 2019, from 72 individuals to 2 individuals.”

The letter added that protection of religious minorities, including Christians, “is an extremely important issue for Catholics worldwide and in the United States.”

Adjusting the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program will save lives through resettlement, they added, “including the lives of thousands of families fleeing religious persecution.”

Songs like Neil Diamond’s “America” remind us that patriotism and being pro-life is about welcoming the stranger — welcoming them “to a new and a shiny place” where they can “make our bed and we’ll say our grace.” It’s the America our Founding Fathers envisioned.