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Below are some frequently asked questions we receive. Please click the questions to open the answer. 


WHAT MAKES SOMEONE A "REFUGEE"?

WHAT MAKES THIS A "GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS"?

HOW DO REFUGEES COME TO THE UNITED STATES? WHAT IS THE "SCREENING PROCESS"? 

WHAT ARE THE ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF RESETTLING REFUGEES?

WHO ARE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS?

WHY DON'T PEOPLE COME THROUGH LEGAL PATHWAYS?

WHAT EFFECTS DO UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS HAVE ON THE ECONOMY?

CAN WE JUST HELP "CHRISTIAN REFUGEES"?

WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY ABOUT REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS? 


WHAT MAKES SOMEONE A "REFUGEE"? 

The word refugee is often used informally, referring to people who have fled their home because of war and persecution. However, it is important to note that this is also a legal term defined by the United Nations.  

  • Refugee: According to the United Nations, a refugee is an individual who has fled his or her country of origin because of a credible fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.  

A refugee is not afforded the protection of their home country and thereby flees to neighboring counties to find safety and international protection. An individual must undergo intensive interviews with a United Nations officer in order to determine if they meet the requirements of a refugee and are eligible for resettlement or local integration.  

 

Other key terms 
  • Internally Displaced Person (IDP): Unlike refugees, an IDP stays within their own country and is under the protection of their government. It can be difficult to provide humanitarian aid to IDPs because they often flee to remote areas.  

  • Asylum Seeker: A person who flees his or her country for the same reasons as a refugee but their claim for protection has yet to be granted. These persons file a claim for asylum once they arrive in their destination country.  

  • Undocumented Immigrant: A person who has migrated to another country for various reasons (i.e. poverty, natural disaster, or violence in their home counties) and are seeking safety or opportunity in a new country, but have no legal pathway to do so.   

  • Immigrant: A person who choose to leave their country and has a legal avenue to move to a new country temporarily or indefinitely. 


What makes this a "global refugee crisis"?

Over the last couple of years, refugees have made the headlines on the world stage.  We refer to the refugee situation as the global refugee crisis, but what is it that makes it a crisis? 
 
We often talk about the numbers. They are staggering. More than 65 million individuals have been forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution, and violence. Over 22 million individuals have fled the borders of their country as refugees, many of whom are living in refugee camps. In Syria alone, 11 million people have been forced from their homes and over 5 million have crossed the border into a neighboring country. It is appropriate to name this a crisis.  

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established after WWII to create refugee protection systems. Member states acknowledged the rights of refugees and their moral obligation to share responsibility in helping and receiving refugees.  

Though the number of people forcibly displaced have exceeded the numbers during WWII, what makes this a global crisis is not just the number of people fleeing.  

What adds to the sense of crisis is the international community’s unwillingness to do their part. The result is that people remain in exile for significant periods of time. The United Nations reports that the current average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. 

While these individuals and families are in desperate need of safe communities and countries that will welcome them and help them rebuild their lives, only 189,300 refugees were resettled across the world in 2016. That is less than 1% of the refugees the United Nations reports to be in need of a critical lifeline. Less than 75,000 refugees total were resettled in 2017 in the 30 or so countries that sign on to United Nations treaties that uphold the rights of refugees and our obligation to help them.  

This is a failure of the international refugee protection system. 

The United States has often been a global leader in refugee resettlement, and yet in 2017 we resettled only .002% of the world’s refugees. This year, the United States will resettle some of the lowest numbers in our history, around 20,000 refugees.  

In reality, neighboring countries host and provide asylum to the vast majority of the world’s refugees. Lebanon has seen a 25% increase in their population due to the influx of asylum seekers and refugees.  


HOW DO REFUGEES COME TO THE UNITED STATES? WHAT IS THE "SCREENING PROCESS"?

There is an enormous difference between how asylum seekers arrive in places like Jordan or Kenya or European countries and the processing that takes place to legally admit them, and the process for admitting refugees into the United States.  

Each year, following consultations with Congress, the President sets annual refugee admissions ceilings that determine how many refugees we will resettle and from what regions.  

How does the United States select the individuals they will resettle?  

The United States receives referrals of individual cases most in need of resettlement from the United Nations. Priority is given to those who are deemed to be most vulnerable, including a majority who are women or children. In addition to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees screening measures, these individual cases then undergo interviews, security screenings, and medical clearances by the United States government. The process includes 8 U.S government agencies, 5 background checks, 6 separate security databases, and 3 in-person interviews. The U.S. process takes on average 2-3 years. Only after the case is approved, does the family or individual receive a visa. Their flight to the United States comes in the form of a loan that they will begin paying back after 6 months in the U.S.  

Is the screening process secure enough?  

The best evidence that this screening process is working well is its remarkable record. In fact, though there have been approximately 3 million refugees admitted to the U.S. since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, not one American life has been taken on U.S. soil by an individual who has been admitted to the country as a refugee. The Cato Institute estimates that the odds of a U.S. citizen being killed by a terrorist who comes to the U.S. as a refugee are 1 in 3.64 billion.  

Those selected for resettlement are the victims of persecution and extremist violence. They tend to be the fiercest critics of extremist groups and tyrannical governments, having suffered at their hands.  

After the U.S. grants a refugee visa, who oversees the process of their resettlement and integration?  

The U.S. government contracts with non-profits, like World Relief, to facilitate the resettlement of refugees into our communities. These agencies work in partnership with other organizations such as the school district, county Human Assistance offices, medical providers, and community organizations to ensure refugees have what they need to rebuild their lives. Volunteers and the wider community play a vital role in welcoming and offering community and belonging to these new Americans.  

 

wHAT ARE THE ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF RESETTLING REFUGEES?

Like other immigrants, the arrival of refugees can provide a significant economic opportunity for the countries that receive them. While most countries provide refugees with a limited amount of basic assistance when they first arrive, almost all refugees are eager to work and become productive members of their new community.   

A growing national economy depends upon a growing population. Refugees can play crucial roles in an economy as workers, consumers, taxpayers, and entrepreneurs.

 

 

Who are undocumented immigrants?

A lot of what we hear and read about undocumented immigrants is inaccurate.  Of the approximately 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 40% entered lawfully with a visa, but overstayed, while the rest entered illegally.  While about 56% of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico, there are also millions of undocumented Asian, African, and European immigrants—so this is certainly not just a Mexican issue. Most immigrants without legal status, like those with legal status, come to improve their economic situation (which is often very perilous in their country of origin) to reunite with their family, or to flee persecution and violence in their country of origin. 

 

WHY DON'T PEOPLE COME THROUGH LEGAL PATHWAYS?

It is reasonable to expect that immigrants wishing to start a new life in the United States go through proper channels to reside here. There are currently four ways for a person to gain Lawful Permanent Resident status in the U.S. 

Employment-Based Immigration: These visas are almost exclusively reserved for those with “advanced degrees” and “extraordinary abilities” and require an employer sponsor.  

Diversity Visa Lottery: These are for individuals from “under-represented” countries (not for those from Mexico, the Philippines, China, India, and other “over-represented” countries).  The odds of winning are about 1 in 300.  

Refugee or Asylee Status: These are for those who are fleeing persecution (not for those fleeing poverty, natural disasters). Only a fraction of 1% of the world’s refugees and asylees are allowed to be resettled to the U.S. in a given year.  

Family-Based Immigration: Lawful Permanent Residents can petition for visas for immediate family members. Depending on the family relationship, the immigration status of the petitioner, and the country of origin of the beneficiary, the wait can extend for up to 23 years.   

For most undocumented immigrants none of these legal pathways is an option. They elected to come illegally or overstay temporary visa years or even decades ago because there was no legal path to permanent status. Many would agree that our immigration system is in need of reform. Just how we fix this broken system, though, is a question of heated controversy—in Washington DR, and even in our churches.  

As Christians, our response to these challenging issues should be informed by Scripture, which guides us toward how God would have us think about immigration policy and about immigrants themselves.  

Soerens, M., & Yang, J. (2018). Welcoming the Stranger, Revised and Expanded. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. p.67-84. 

 

WHAT EFFECTS DO UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS HAVE ON THE ECONOMY?

A common frustration with illegal immigration stems from the presumption that undocumented immigrants fail to pay taxes while receiving government services. In reality, the reverse is often true: almost all undocumented immigrants pay taxes even though they are ineligible for many of the services that tax dollars support. They pay approximately $7 billion annually in sales and excise taxes. They also contribute $12 billion per year in Social Security contributions (through invalid Social Security numbers).  

Soerens, M., & Yang, J. (2018). Welcoming the Stranger, Revised and Expanded. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. p.27-29. 


CAN WE JUST HELP "CHRISTIAN REFUGEES"?

Many of the refugees in the world today are Christians. Welcoming refugees is an important way for believers to stand with the persecuted Church—and efforts to restrict refugee resettlement could negatively impact many fellow Christ-followers who have been forced to flee.  

At the same time, Jesus made explicitly clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:21-37) that the Great Commandment to love our neighbors compels us to love all those who are in need, not just those who share our ethnicity or religion. Welcoming those of other religious traditions also allows us to live out Jesus’ “Golden Rule,” responding to those who have been forced to flee their homes with the same compassion and respect we would hope to receive if we were forced to flee our country. 

 

WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY ABOUT REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS?

Scripture has a lot to say about refugees and immigrants. Sadly, the voice of Scripture on this topic is frequently drowned out by political debates and agendas.   

The Hebrew word ger—translated into English as a foreigner, sojourner, stranger, refugee, or immigrant appears 92 times in the Old Testament. In many of these occurrences, we find God's special concern for immigrants. For instance, Leviticus 19:33 says, "When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrants who live with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt."  

Being foreigners in a foreign land is a common experience of ancient Israel and the early church. In fact, almost all of the major characters in the biblical narrative (including all of ancient Israel) experience forced migration. To name just a few: 

  • Moses fled from Egypt to Midian because Pharaoh sought to kill him (Genesis 27:42-44). 

  • David had to seek asylum under King Achish because King Saul was trying to kill him (Exodus 2:15). 

  • Elijah fled persecution from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and was suffering so much he prayed that he might die (1 Kings 19:1-4). 

  • Daniel was forcefully carried from his homeland and forced to resettle in Babylon.   

  • Ruth the Moabite left her homeland, culture, and religion for the unknown land, people, and God of her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. Displaced, grieving, and vulnerable, Ruth survived on the kindness of her adopted people, eventually remarried, and became a full member of the community.   

  • Just like his ancestors, Jesus and his young parents were forced to flee their home as refugees to escape political violence (Matt 2:13). 

The characters of the Bible and Jesus understood the plight of refugees in deep and personal ways.  

There are many themes in the scriptures that can also guide our thinking and responses to refugees and immigrants. Consider the following:  

  • Hospitality: The New Testament repeatedly commands us to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), which literally means to practice loving strangers—with the hint that by doing so, we may be welcoming angels (Heb. 13:2). 

  • Welcoming the Stranger: Jesus commands his people to welcome the stranger for “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:31-46). 

  • Great Commandment: Welcoming refugees is a tangible way to love our neighbors, part of Jesus’ Great Commandment (Luke 10:27), and to practice the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31), treating those forced to flee to a foreign land in a way we would hope to be treated. 

  • Caring for the Persecuted: Welcoming refugees also presents an opportunity to stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for their faith—which includes a significant number of refugees from various parts of the world (Hebrews 10:33-34, 13:3). 

  • Good Samaritan: Jesus makes explicitly clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that our “neighbor” cannot be narrowly defined to only those who share our nationality or religion. The Samaritan (a despised immigrant to the Jewish community in Jesus' time) showed compassion and love to someone in need—even putting himself at risk and expending his own resources. We are to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37). 

  • Jerusalem, Judea, & Samaria: Jesus' last words to his disciples included a commissioning of them to be his witnesses in their city (Jerusalem), their county (Judea), and communities culturally and religiously different than theirs (Samaria) (Acts 1:8).  

  • Citizenship in Heaven under the rule of the Kingdom of God: Throughout the Bible, God's people are to give their allegiance to the Kingdom of God. God's people are to live under an alternative politic and rule modeled to us by Jesus. Ultimately, Christians are commanded and called to be the citizenship of heaven.  

 

Philippians 2:3, Paul says, "In humility value, others above yourselves, [do not merely look] to your own interests but each of your to the interest of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." Then Paul goes on to express how Christ made himself a servant by sacrificially dying for humans.  

What does it mean for us to have that same mindset in our relationship with refugees and immigrants in our community?  

It means striving to live into our calling to express a radical cross-like love, which is the hallmark of Christ followers (John 13:35). As the church lives into the Great Commandments to love God and love neighbor, the kingdom and rule of God will be present and the gospel message will be heard and seen. Loving our neighbors, in particular, our refugee and immigrant neighbors testify to the gospel we believe in and the God we love.