Evangelical Leaders Defend Asylum, Protection of Unaccompanied Children

 In Press Releases

June 12, 2020

Evangelical Leaders Defend Asylum, Protection of Unaccompanied Minors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Evangelical leaders are voicing profound concerns about proposals that would significantly restrict eligibility for asylum in the U.S., and ongoing actions that put children at risk.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are expected on Monday to publish new proposed strict regulations that, if finalized, will redefine or set aside laws designed to offer safety to those fleeing persecution. Separately this week, the deportation of an unaccompanied Honduran boy who professes a fear of persecution in his home country was averted only by a federal judge’s temporary halt.

Representing many of the largest evangelical denominations and institutions, leaders are reaffirming their commitment to protections for both children and adults who fear persecution.

Their right to request asylum, though codified in U.S. law, is at present an empty promise for those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Already limited before COVID-19, asylum requests are now entirely on hold. The regulations expected to be proposed Monday would dramatically restrict eligibility for asylum indefinitely, even once the public health crisis has passed and even for those who arrive via airplane, not via the land border.

Evangelical leaders previously have reaffirmed their commitment to our nation’s laws offering asylum to those with a credible fear of persecution. In a February letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, they wrote:

This longstanding commitment to offering refuge to those fleeing persecution is rooted in our history as a nation that welcomes refugees, and for us in the biblical principle that all human beings are made in God’s image. As a nation and as individuals, we are morally obligated to do all that is reasonably possible to protect human life. That does not mean that every individual who seeks asylum qualifies under the law for permanent residence in the United States. But we must offer due process and, throughout that process, treat all people with dignity and reasonable protection, with a particular concern for children and others who are vulnerable.

Relatedly, under the terms of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), unaccompanied children such as the Honduran boy at the center of this week’s court case must be treated with particular care following a precise protocol.  Instead, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they often have been abruptly expelled, often alone and to situations of danger, as both the New York Times and The Texas Tribune have reported.

In April, in a letter to President Trump, evangelical leaders reaffirmed their support for the TVPRA, describing it as “a law whose passage evangelical Christians strongly advocated for and which we continue to believe should be respected.” The letter, which has since been affirmed by hundreds of evangelical Christians from 49 states, says:

We must not allow COVID-19 to serve as a pretext for turning our backs on the vulnerable and persecuted … While we certainly understand the unique challenges that this public health crisis presents, it is still vital that children be protected from human trafficking and violence. The provisions of the TVPRA, which include transferring children from non-contiguous countries to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours, must still be followed, even while taking all appropriate public health precautions to protect children, officials of the U.S. government, and our communities.

As evangelical Christians, our commitment to the authority of the Bible compels us to recognize that each person is made in the image of God with inherent dignity. We will continue to address these troubling policy changes which are inconsistent with existing U.S. law and with the protection of vulnerable children and families.

The following are quotes from Evangelical Immigration Table leaders:

Galen Carey, Vice President for Government Relations, National Association of Evangelicals

“Under cover of COVID-19 the Statue of Liberty is being pulled apart, limb by limb.  Decades of humanitarian and civil rights precedents are being ignored or overturned, and our proud tradition as a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution is at grave risk.  At a time when the world is closely watching our response to domestic human rights violations, we must not abandon those who have suffered similar abuses elsewhere.”

Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church:

“Our country is overwhelmed and grieving in the midst of racial injustices and the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of all of this, though, we must not turn a blind eye to the mistreatment of vulnerable children and families seeking asylum. Our nation cannot claim to uphold ‘law and order’ while we fail to respect laws such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was designed to protect vulnerable unaccompanied children from threats of violence and trafficking. It is unacceptable that these legal protections are currently being set aside under the pretext of COVID-19.”

Chris Palusky, President & CEO, Bethany Christian Services:

“At Bethany, we value the health and safety of all people because our faith teaches us that we are all made in God’s image and loved by him. Children at the southern border have fled violence, trafficking, and gang extortion and are in extreme danger — deporting them to their countries of origin does not promote the eradication of COVID-19. U.S. border officials should carry out health screenings, testing, quarantines, and other measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of both the American people and the children seeking safety. Organizations that care for unaccompanied children, like Bethany, are prepared to meet the mental and physical health needs of these vulnerable kids and keep them safe.”

Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition:

“In the midst our collective grief for the killing of unarmed African-Americans, the loss of life and economic security during this global pandemic, our lament is compounded by policy changes that impact asylum seekers and unaccompanied immigrant children. A global pandemic should not be a pretext for exposing children and families to the perils of violence and persecution. We ought not forget that our nation’s nobility is, in large part, measured by how we treat the most vulnerable.”

Jenny Yang, Senior Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, World Relief:

“As the nation rightly focuses upon the grief and anger sparked by the unjust death of yet another African American man at the hands of police, our federal government has quietly enacted a number of policy changes that are putting children and families — most of them people of color from Central America — at risk. If our country really believes that all are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we cannot remain silent as laws designed to protect those fleeing persecution and violence are ignored, as parents are coerced into either separation from their children or their indefinite detention in the midst of a pandemic, and as children are deported — alone — to situations of persecution.”

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The Evangelical Immigration Table is a broad coalition of evangelical organizations and leaders advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values.

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