The Refugee Problem?

The spiritual deficit of not welcoming the stranger

by Lisa Colón DeLay

If we let it, this story can expose our own notions and shortcomings related to hospitality and those in need. How do we—both as individuals and as a country—help those from far away when they come to us in need? Are our doors and our hearts open? Who is responsible for a refugee problem?

The Christmastime story of “no room at the inn in Bethlehem” comes around each year. We learn of dire circumstances of the holy family. They are in grave need. During the long trip to Bethlehem, Joseph walks a donkey who is carrying Mary. Mary is in labor with Jesus, our Savior, but, they have no place to stay.  What will happen? Who will help this needy family so far from home? 

In the US we have a refugee problem not because so many refugees exist and need to relocate, but because we have no room for them.

Lisa Colón DeLay

The problem and the real poverty stands with us and our inability to be generous and moved in compassion when others need us most. Too often, we see strangers in need and foreigners who need our help as a liability. Too often we think of our resources as scarce—even though we live in one of the wealthiest and most abundant countries of the world.

What if we will feel uncomfortable? What if they take too much? What if we won’t have enough because we helped them?

Yet, vulnerable and impoverished people coming for a better life are the same kinds of people who built the very country we enjoy today. They have every reason to live and work along side us and prosper as soon as they can. They bring us the good news.

Clearly, the number of people forcibly displaced in the world has soared in the last few years. War, massive food and supply shortages, and geopolitical and world economic instability will spike these numbers higher in coming years. This means that families escaping violence, poverty, war, and persecution have made truly welcoming and housing the stranger a moral imperative of our times. It’s a humanitarian necessity.

“The number of forcibly displaced people around the world has skyrocketed since 2010, growing from 41.1 million that year to 82.4 million as of 2020. Much of this displacement has been fueled by conflicts and crises in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Yemen,”* reports the non profit, non partisan organization American Immigration Council.

Some of those displaced also qualify as refugees. “Under U.S. law, a “refugee” is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. This definition is based on the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the United States became a party in 1968. Until recently, the United States offered refuge each year to more people in this position than all other nations combined.” * Not anymore and it is shameful.

Each year, the President works with Congress to come up with a numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. Those who pass the security and medical checks and receive formal approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are eligible for resettlement.*

We aren’t doing nearly enough. Over the years, the rates at which we welcome refugees has plummeted. During the Obama administration a ceiling was made at 110,000, but the highest number ever admitted during his tenure was just under 85,000. Then, massive cuts came in 2017 with the Trump administration. The ceiling collapsed to just 50,000. The Trump administration continued to lower the admissions ceiling in subsequent years, decreasing it to 45,000 in Fiscal Year 2018 (with fewer than 50 percent admitted). In the final year of his term the ceiling was just 15,000. Under Biden’s watch the ceiling was raised to about half the amount of Obama administration (62,500) but because of the CO-VID pandemic, just 7,637 refugees were admitted in 2021.*

Yes, there is a refugee problem because we have not welcomed them. We act like there is no room. In truth, there is a spiritual sickliness that has given us a mentality that prioritizes our comfort and our fear over the basic life and deaths needs of others.

To not welcome the stranger is to simultaneousness refuse to acknowledge and embrace the most vulnerable aspects of ourselves. One day we will be a stranger. One day we will be at the mercy of others. One day we will need hospitality and compassion. Will we then reap something we haven’t sown?

By Lisa Colón DeLay


*article referenced: 
https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/overview-us-refugee-law-and-policy

Statistics source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, “Refugee Admissions Report as of August 31, 2021,” https://www.wrapsnet.org/documents/Refugee%20Admissions%20Report%20as%20of%2031%20Aug%202021.xlsx.

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