My turn, Ted Goins: Time to love our neighbors, set reasonable refugee limit

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 28, 2019

By Ted Goins

The United States is the land of freedom, of bravery and of welcome.

Our nation’s proud history overflows with stories of people relocating to the United States, from the first pilgrims on the Mayflower to our own president’s mother, who emigrated from Scotland in the 1930s. Whether they were fleeing religious persecution or searching for a better life, our country has a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees with generosity and grace.

Churches, local clubs and numerous organizations have traditionally provided invaluable funding, legal and technical assistance for resettlement as they form communities to support these newcomers in their new homes. Our organization, Lutheran Services Carolinas, has resettled refugees in the Carolinas since 1979.  LSC has resettled over 14,000 refugees from many different religions and from around the world without incident.

Over the past two years, we have seen the number of refugee arrivals in the U.S. decline to historic lows precisely when the need has never been greater —a historic high of 25.9 million refugees worldwide. Prior to 2016, the U.S. has had an average refugee resettlement ceiling of 95,000 refugees — hardly the world’s leader in resettlement but contending reasonably with our allies abroad.

Today, some officials in Washington are seriously proposing admitting zero refugees in fiscal year 2020 — effectively ending our American tradition of welcome and comfort to those in need. LSC’s experience for 40 years has been that refugees are just looking for the safety, security and success of the American dream. They are hardworking and entrepreneurial.

They quickly get jobs and become self-supporting and successful. They pay taxes. They add the spice of diversity to our communities.

Refugees are the most vetted individuals to enter the U.S. They undergo heavy scrutiny and inspection to ensure everyone’s safety.

Before they set foot in the U.S., they must pass through complex security checks with over five U.S. agencies, while living in refugee camps abroad, where many wait years, even decades, for the opportunity to be resettled on U.S. soil. Many are allies who have assisted U.S. military operations and are now under attack for those actions.

The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program has allowed the U.S. to resettle Afghans who worked alongside our brave troops in Afghanistan as translators, engineers, security guards, cultural advisors, soldiers and more. Those friends of the United States are suddenly finding that the solemn promises made to them about resettlement have been broken.

They and other refugees from across the world are unable to return to the places they call home for fear of death, persecution and violence. Helping refugees find a new home in our country and our state has always been a strong bipartisan tradition. Because of this tradition we have aided people from Vietnam, Cuba, the former Soviet Union and other countries. Resettlement is a refugee’s last, and oftentimes only, option for safety. They are our future brothers and sisters who dream of the same opportunities we have received.

It is time we heed one of the greatest commands of all — to love our neighbors as ourselves. For this reason, we urge the administration to set a reasonable and sustainable refugee ceiling. And we urge people of all faiths to join us in this request.

Ted W. Goins, Jr. is president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas, based in Salisbury. LSC is a faith-based, nonprofit health and human services organization that offers a spectrum of services, from foster care to long-term senior care.