November 17, 2016

Five things you need to know about refugees

Photo courtesy of Libby Kinsey
Much has been said about immigrants, and particularly about refugees. While there certainly is room for differences of opinion on how our country deals with refugees from war-torn areas like Syria and Iraq, and room for differences of opinion as to what our responsibility as Christians or Brethren is to them, these differences should at least be based on real information. So here are five facts that many people do not know about refugees, and particularly about those coming from the Middle East.

  1. Many people are unsure as to what refugees are, and confuse them with asylees or other types of immigrants. In the United States, refugees are those who apply for refugee status in the US through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and go through an extensive vetting process before being admitted. Asylees, on the other hand, are people who enter the US by some other method, apply for political asylum through the US legal system, and are not subject to the same vetting process.
  2. Talk has focused on the need to do a better job of vetting refugees, particularly those from Muslim countries. Refugees are already subject to an intense, multi-stage vetting process, far more rigorous than that faced by any other category of immigrant, which usually takes longer than a year. It includes iris scans and fingerprinting, as well as name checks against databases held by the intelligence community, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department, at several different stages of the process.
  3. Of the more than 3 million people admitted to the US as refugees since 1975, only 12, or .0004 percent, have been arrested or removed from the country for security concerns. None have committed a terrorist attack in the US. Asylees and other classes of immigrants have been responsible for several.
  4. Some say most refugees from Syria are young men, and are more likely to be involved in crime or terror. However, of the Syrian refugees admitted this year, less than a quarter are men between the ages of 18 and 50. Nearly half are children under the age of 14.
  5. One thing that has remained constant throughout US history is opposition to incoming refugees and other immigrant populations: 71 percent of Americans opposed allowing more Cubans to settle in the US in 1980; 62 percent opposed allowing more Vietnamese and Cambodians in 1979; 55 percent opposed allowing more Hungarians in 1958. Before the advent of modern polling data, history records widespread opposition to the immigration of Poles, Slavs, Italians, Irish, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, and many other groups, even when they were fleeing violence and persecution. Even our German Brethren ancestors were met with prejudice and jealousy in 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania by residents who feared they brought “foreign ways” and were buying up too much land. What a different and lesser country we would be if those who opposed earlier waves of refugees and immigrants had gotten their way.

We hope readers will find these facts useful as they consider how best to carry out God’s instructions for how we are to treat the foreigner in our midst:

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself ” (Leviticus 19:34a).