When I talk to people about why I — a pastor at my church — believe refugees should be welcomed in our country, my rationale is simple: Jesus was a refugee.
One would think that message would resonate with others within my faith. But it’s not always so. It concerns me that so many in our country who profess their Christian faith in one breath would condemn refugees in the next.
Whether or not you are Christian, here’s the quick story on Jesus as a refugee: His father had a dream in which an angel told him to leave Bethlehem with Jesus and his mother, Mary, because King Herod “is going to search for the child to kill him.” They fled to Egypt, while King Herod killed every male under the age of 2. If you think that’s just a fairy tale, consider that it is widely accepted that Herod murdered three of his own sons, his favorite wife, a brother-in-law. Brutality was his signature.
Today’s refugees are fleeing the same sort of violence in war-torn countries. Staying where they are is a death sentence. Fleeing means no longer having a home. This isn’t a case in which they are leaving because the “grass is greener on the other side.” They’re leaving because the grass is on fire under their feet. They will die if they stay.
The undeniable truth is that directives like “search for the child to kill him” have been happening for centuries. They continue in modern times: the Holocaust in World War II, the Rwandan genocide and Bosnian mass graves of the 1990s, the murder of the Rohingya in Myanmar over the past several years, the systemic execution of infants and elderly in Ethiopia’s Tigray province this year.
When refugees arrive in our country, they only add to the beauty, economic growth and richness of our communities. Refugees do not cost taxpayers money. Refugees pay back their cost of resettlement — tens of thousands of dollars — and then pay into municipal, state and federal coffers for the rest of their lives as part of the workforce.
“Refugees do not cost taxpayers money.”
Many refugees in our community have been front-line workers throughout the pandemic; they are entrepreneurs, small business owners, parents of exceptional students and health care workers. They enhance our community in every way.
With a new administration in the White House and historic bipartisan refugee resettlement policies being reinstated, we have an enormous amount of rebuilding that needs to happen.
Last month, the Biden administration formally increased the fiscal year 2021 refugee admissions goal to 62,500, fulfilling a pledge to set the stage to rebuild the U.S. resettlement program. This new admissions goal is an increase from the historic-low refugee admissions goal of 15,000 put in place by the Trump administration
Now is a critical time to ask our leaders to fulfill their promise of living up to our American values by helping resettle as many refugees as possible. The Biden administration was slow to act on this promise, setting back the process to rebuild the refugee program by three months. These delays have caused serious harm to thousands of refugees who already had been approved for resettlement in the United States, forcing refugees to wait months, if not years, to be resettled.
“Now is a critical time to ask our leaders to fulfill their promise of living up to our American values by helping resettle as many refugees as possible.”
I will do everything I can to welcome refugees, not just because I am guided by faith, but because I believe one of the greatest acts we can perform in this life is helping someone in their moment of need. I was inspired by my grandfather, who was an officer in the Marines in World War II. When a refugee family who had helped our country in Vietnam arrived in Fort Worth, he helped lead our church to welcome them because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Yesterday was World Refugee Day. Today, there is so much you can do to make a difference for our neighbors. You can write to elected officials and encourage them to do all they can to help us welcome refugees. You can partner, like our church has done for 60 years, to support refugees in our community. You can donate items to help make apartments feel like home, you can buy groceries so there is a meal that tastes like home in their fridge when they arrive, you can greet families at the airport, you can help students in school, you can partner with families to help practice English, work on job applications, and learn American culture.
Imagine if you owned nothing but the clothes on your back. Would you hope that someone would open their heart and help you? Let’s do the same for our neighbors.
Allison Lanza serves as associate minister at Ridglea Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and executive director of Connect Ministries.