Despite previous plans to admit the highest number of refugees in decades, the United States will shut its doors to thousands displaced by conflict in the Middle East—at least temporarily—under an executive order President Donald Trump signed Friday.
Christian aid groups responsible for resettlement mourned and criticized the president’s decision to stop accepting any refugees into the United States for the next four months. The order puts an indefinite ban on refugees coming from Syria and a month-long pause on anyone entering America from a handful of Muslim-majority nations.
“Our concern is that this action really does further traumatize a group of people that have already borne so much tragedy,” said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, one of nine agencies that partner with the federal government to resettle refugees. “The human toll is really crushing.”
World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), took on about 11,000 cases last year—a record high since 1999—and had almost 1,200 churches volunteer to help.
The United States had been on track to meet the Obama administration’s goal of resettling 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017—the highest goal since 1995, the Pew Research Center reported. Trump’s administration is expected to halve that goal to 50,000.
The executive order, part of Trump’s campaign promise to crackdown on immigration, targets seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.
Syria, where ISIS violence has displaced more than a million residents, was the No. 2 country of origin among the nearly 85,000 refugees the United States admitted last year. Syrians comprised 15 percent of refugees in the 2016 fiscal year, according to Pew. Iraq (12%), Somalia (11%), and Iran (4%) also made the top 10 list.
The Trump administration cites security concerns for the policy changes. A draft of the order published by The New York Times reads, “In order to protect Americans, we must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward our country and its founding principles.”
Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief, acknowledges the security risks, but believes the administration’s action goes overboard.
“We live in a dangerous world and it is right that we take security seriously. The American people are rightly asking for transparency on the measures taken to safeguard our homeland,” Breene said. “However, World Relief does not believe compassion and security have to be mutually exclusive. While it is wise to always work to increase effectiveness, a lengthy and complete ban is not necessary to meet our commitment to security, transparency and compassion.”
Franklin Graham, the president of the evangelical relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, defended the decision.
“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” he told the Huffington Post. “We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but… there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said on Twitter that Trump’s plan was “sound,” advocating that the goverment limit immigration as a protective measure while the church continue to minister to refugees. “Both are needed,” he wrote.