I’ve learned over the past months and years that most Americans—including politicians and journalists—know very little about the American immigration system. Let’s review the facts.
1. Immigrant ≠ refugee. Refugees represent a very specific legal category. Directly from UNHCR:
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
Again, immigrant ≠ refugee. Immigrants choose to relocate; refugees are forced from their homes. Refugees enter the US with special legal status to live and work here.
2. Refugees already face a very strict vetting process. Far and away, the refugee system is the most difficult way to enter the US. It’s exponentially easier to obtain a tourist visa or a student visa. Fewer than 1% of the world’s refugees are ever resettled to a third country. If there is any question about a refugee in the vetting process, that person is not allowed to come to the US. Before being admitted to the United States, refugees undergo multiple security background checks, medical exams, iris scans and collection of other biometric information, in a procedure that takes 18 to 24 months. The average time for a refugee to await resettlement is 17 years.
3. Since 1980 when the U.S. began resettling refugees in earnest, there has NEVER been a case of a refugee committing an act of terrorism within the United States. San Bernardino? No, not refugees. Boston marathon? Again, no. Please be very careful. Words matter. Facts matter.
4. America is not Europe. Asylum seekers are able to walk, drive, and float into Europe with no screening. Asylum seekers have suffered the same fate as refugees, but they do not have the same legal status. Unlike Europe, America has an ocean, and a strict refugee vetting program.
5. 51% of refugees are children. The US gives priority to family reunification and resettling the most vulnerable.
6. President Obama changed the Cuban immigration policy. Yes, it’s hard on the Cubans. Why? Because it puts Cubans on the same legal footing as all other refugees from all other countries around the world. So whether you like it or not, it’s fair.
7. Research continually shows that refugees are a net gain to the economy, and that refugees are more likely to start their own business than native-born Americans.
8. The recent Executive Orders, even though they are being reviewed, do have an immediate effect on refugees. President Obama set the number of refugees to be resettled in the United States in fiscal year 2017 (Oct 16—Sep 17) at 110,000. The executive orders have reduced that number by more than half, down to 50,000, an historically low number. We have already resettled more than 40,000 refugees this year, in anticipation of reaching the higher number. I personally have friends awaiting the resettlement of family members, who will now have to wait even longer.
9. Followers of Jesus are responsible to follow what the Bible says about welcoming strangers and foreigners. This should not be a matter of partisan politics; it’s a matter of obeying God…or not. I believe Jesus meant it when He said “Love your neighbor.” And when asked “Who is my neighbor?” the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ story was a hated, half-breed, religiously heretical foreigner.
10. There is something you can do. Get educated—there’s a list of great books here: https://stand4welcome.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/never-too-old-to-learn/
Visit your local refugee resettlement agency. They all offer volunteer trainings.
Volunteer. Get to know some refugees personally.
Donate to your local refugee resettlement agency. Their funding is being cut, and they can use the help.
Turn off the fake news; don’t fall for alternative truth. Counter mis-information and lies with truth. Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life. Truth matters.
Author’s Note: The above are true facts I’ve learned from the following experiences: I’ve taught English to hundreds of refugees. I’ve volunteered with the local resettlement agency to mentor nine refugee families who were newly arrived in the United States. I’ve attended numerous training sessions to prepare to do both of those things. I read extensively about refugees. I’ve attended two national conferences on refugees. I’ve traveled to the Arizona/Mexico border specifically to learn about immigration, and to a jail for women and child immigrants in Texas to volunteer as a legal assistant. I’ve taken coursework on Immigration Law, and I volunteer with an immigration attorney in a family immigration legal office, pursuing BIA/OLAP/DOJ accreditation. I’m not an attorney or a refugee, but I do know a fair amount more about refugees—and KNOW more refugees personally—than does the average American, or politician, or journalist….