A UCC minister in Columbus, Ohio is one of several faith leaders and local lawmakers standing in solidarity with members of the refugee community Thursday morning, September 20, as they shared their stories about resettlement in the United States. How the issue is about people, not numbers. Why the issue isn't about politics – it's about saving people's lives.
"The Trump administration's decision to slash the number of refugees welcomed in fiscal year 2019 to 30,000, the lowest number in U.S. history, is a moral abomination perpetrated by an administration which oft cites biblical references to undergird their decisions and preaches the value of family," said the Rev. Kate Shaner, minister of Mission, First Community Church UCC, Columbus. "The intentional decision to abandon the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters directly contradicts the Greatest Commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and inflicts misery and despair on those already suffering."
The group took their message to the streets outside Columbus' local refugee resettlement office, Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), to call attention to the Administration's announced drastic cuts to the refugee program. After setting the lowest refugee admissions goal in history last year – 45,000 – and admitting less than half of that low number, the Administration plans to slash the number even further next year, during the worst refugee crisis in human history.
"As a former refugee, the Presidential determination numbers of 30,000 refugees for 2019 is devastating and heartbreaking," said Jackie Kifuko, who left her home in Uganda after her life was threatened. "I was convinced and promised that immediately after my arrival in America my son would be able to join me. A year ago I applied for him. The only communication I received from USCIS was acknowledgement of the receipt for the file and the increased slow-down of processing has kept him from me."
Kifuko, who is now a community organizer for CRIS, underscored the impact of the Administration's decision. "These new historically low refugee numbers mean thousands of families like mine will remain separated and torn apart and reduces the chances of 22 million of getting to a safe haven."
Other speakers noted how the refugee resettlement program has enriched their Ohio communities, and asked Congress to raise the resettlement number, to welcome 75,000 refugees in 2019.
"Here at CRIS we see the direct impact of this year's low arrivals and anti-refugee policies in the faces of refugees waiting for their family members to join them, whose family members are #StillNotHere: Beshiya, Fadumo, Afkab, Deborah, Jackie. We stand here today to speak on behalf of these and the many other people in Central Ohio who will be negatively impacted if this low ceiling is allowed to stand," said Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee Immigration Services.
The broader faith community expressed their dismay and outrage in failing to welcome the world's most vulnerable people. "Six of the nine refugee resettlement agencies are faith-based," said the Rev. Noel Anderson, coordinator of the UCC Collaborative on Immigration and grassroots organizer for Church World Service. "It underscores our moral conviction to welcome the stranger and advocate for the vulnerable."
"It is criminal what we do to black and brown people in this country. It's morally reprehensible," Shaner said, noting that this issue is not going unnoticed. "Since the election our refugee task force our numbers have tripled. We have people every day calling to ask what they can do. You can tell this is weighing on the hearts and minds of people. Refugee numbers are about people and families."
First Community Church UCC has been involved in refugee advocacy for 40 years.
"The prophet Micah tells us God expects us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God," Shaner emphasized. "This decision does none of those things and is completely antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This decision isn't right or left, it's wrong."
The UCC General Minister and President condemned the decision immediately following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement of the proposed refugee ceiling Monday evening. Pompeo sent the administration's proposal to Congress. If the cap sticks, it will be the lowest number since the U.S. refugee program began in the early 1980's.
"The United Church of Christ feels a strong call to serve the refugee among us," said the Rev. John Dorhauer. "They place immense trust and hope in discovering new homes in new nations where they and their children will be loved and cared for. It was always a source of great pride to me that America was one of those places they knew they could find such love. I fear that may no longer be the case. I call upon people of good faith and compassion to rehearse again the grand narrative inspired by our Statue of Liberty, upon whose pedestal we find these words: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" I pray every day that we choose again to be this America."