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Time Is Running Out: Deadline Approaches for US to Decide How Many Refugees It Will Accept

Syrian refugee children who fled violence in Syrian city of Ain al-Arab, known also as Kobani, seen outside their tents in a camp in the border town of Suruc, Turkey, in 2015. (AP Photo)
Syrian refugee children who fled violence in Syrian city of Kobani, seen outside their tents in a camp in the border town of Suruc, Turkey, in 2015. (AP Photo)

In the last three years, the US has dramatically slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country. With a looming Oct. 1 deadline to decide on a FY2021 allocation, refugee advocates are asking the Trump administration to reverse the trend.

The FY2020 presidential determination for refugees was just 18,000 – the lowest level since the US began the refugee resettlement program in 1980.  

The Trump administration has reduced the refugee ceiling each year, despite a promoted commitment to international religious freedom. In FY2018 it set the level at 45,000. In FY2019 it dropped to 30,000 and then 18,000 for FY2020.

A new report from World Relief and Open Doors USA shows that has severely impacted Christians fleeing persecution for their faith. 

Since 2015, there's been a 90 percent drop in the number of Christian refugees settled in the US.

Refugee advocates and faith leaders including the Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, World Relief, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition are asking for a FY2021 refugee resettlement goal of 95,000 – the average annual goal since 1980.

The concern: a growing global displacement crisis that includes close to 30 million refugees. That includes rising numbers of political refugees fleeing Hong Kong, as well as hot spots like Syria, Iran, and Burma.

Right now, advocates say time is running out. The president is mandated by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to consult with members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to determine the annual number, but so far, no meeting has been set. 

"The administration has not set a date for consultation and we have asked," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the chair of the House subcommittee on Immigration, in a conference call Sept. 10th.

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The Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration manages the US refugee program. When asked about this year's process and possible numbers, a State spokesperson deferred to the president, saying the refugee admissions ceiling is his decision. 

Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the administration's policy on refugees in an interview with CBN News' David Brody, saying the focus is to create safety for refugees in their home countries.

"We're still the most generous, welcoming nation anywhere in the world," Pompeo said. "Our objective has been to try and do what those people really want in those cases which is to stay in their own country."

Refugee advocates dispute that claim of generosity, especially as refugees still suffer because of their faith.

Jen Smyers, the director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service, says the administration's stance is puzzling.

"The administration has claimed to support people who are fleeing religious persecution and yet with the numbers we're seeing such few refugees coming in," she told CBN News. "There are only 946 Christians fleeing religious persecution who are settled this year, which is the lowest it's ever been."

Susan Kragt, branch director of refugee and immigrant services at Bethany Christian Services says they're very concerned about the administration's decision.  "We're committed to standing with the vulnerable among us and welcoming the stranger among as God's call to us, so we just really pray that the administration will return that number to 95,000," she said.

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