By Roy Oksnevad
The debate on policies regarding refugees and illegal immigrants becomes heated during the election season in North America. The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has stabilized in recent years after decades of rapid growth. But there have been shifts in the states where unauthorized immigrants live and the countries where they were born.
President Obama announced on Nov. 20, 2014 that he would expand deportation relief to almost half the unauthorized immigrant population. Part of this program is on hold due to a lawsuit to stop the move. While executive actions on immigration have a long history, Obama’s recent action was the most significant protection from deportation offered to unauthorized immigrants since 1986, when Congress passed a law that allowed 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants to obtain a green card.
Here are five facts about the unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S.
- There were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014.
- Mexicans make up about half of all unauthorized immigrants (52%), though their numbers have been declining
- Six states alone account for 60% of unauthorized immigrants— California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
- Unauthorized immigrants make up 5.1% of the U.S. labor force.
- About 7% of K-12 students had at least one unauthorized immigrant parent in 2012.
Adding to the debate on immigration is the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian refugee crisis began in earnest in April 2011. Up to 5000 refugees fled to Lebanon (http://syrianrefugees.eu/?page_id=163). By April 2013 UNHCR announced that the number of Syrians either registered as refugees or being assisted as such has reached the 1 million mark. By July 16, 2013 an average 6,000 people a day fled conflict in Syria with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres saying such a rate has not been seen since the mid-1990s.
The crisis continued so that by April 2014 nearly 1 in 5 persons in Lebanon were Syrian refugees. By August 11, 2014 Islamic State (IS) was firmly in control creating 500,000 migrants and refugees. The EU’s border agency reveals that 500,000 migrants and refugees have entered the EU in 2015, 156,000 in August alone. The United Nations counts around 700,000 Syrian refugees who sought asylum in Europe between April 2011 and October 2015. Standing very tightly together, they would fit on 10 soccer fields.
Only a small fraction of refugees fleeing their homes make it to Europe. The UN has registered four million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa. Most of them live in refugee camps close to the border. They would fit on 61 soccer fields. For an interactive map see: http://www.lucify.com/the-flow-towards-europe/
The recent high profile attacks in Paris in November brought to light that at least one of the perpetrators may have embedded himself in the wave of refugees from Syria. The prospect of Islamist infiltration through the current refugee influx in Europe has spooked politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. The concern is over the possibility of an embedded jihadist slipping through the watchful eye of governmental security forces when countries respond with compassion to the humanitarian refugee crisis brought on through the destabilization with the increase Islamic resurgence. Governors and presidential candidates in the United States are pointing to the terror attacks as reason to bar entry to all Syrian refugees. It has also sparked a debate as to whether it is even possible to protect the Western free democracies from attacks of terrorism. However, the actual risk of IS placing terrorists through the current refugee resettlement program is very low, though it is non-zero.
What does the Bible have to say about refugees? The Bible records many situations when judgment is pronounced on sinful and failed nation states in the Old Testament. There are horrific scenes describing the plight of refugees fleeing the coming destruction at the hands of major regional superpowers.
The Bible recognizes the difficulty that refugees experience. For instance, Edom and Moab who refused to let the Israeli refugees pass through their territory during their exodus out of Egypt because of fear (see Judges 11:15-22). Sihon king of the Amorites not only refuged passage of the refugees, they went on the offensive by attacking them. God’s response excluded these nations from entering into the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3-8). Yet, God called on Israel not to condemn them (Deut 23:7).
God used the experience of being a refugee as a teaching moment by reminding Israel that they too were refugees and they should extend the kindness and compassion they were denied (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). When a foreigner or stranger resides in the land we are commanded not to mistreat them (Lev 19:33-34) but also provide for them (Lev 23:22).
God’s response to refugee crisis is redemptive in light of the unforeseen consequences of refugees like that a Moabite, Ruth, which was included in the lineage of Jesus. In fact, Jesus was a refugee from the killing spree of King Herod in the Judean territory (Matt 2:13-21).
Someone might argue that these passages do not deal with the modern possibility of embedded terrorists among refugees. True. First of all, any option must take into consideration the government’s responsibility of seeking the welfare and security of its citizens. Outside of this basic response, it seems that we have two choices: 1) Respond with compassion to the humanitarian crisis with compassion and love and leave the ultimate protecting in the hands of God – for it is impossible to catch every possible bad person. 2) Respond with a protectionist mentality and bar all refugees from entering the country and therefore try to prevent any possibility of terrorists entering by punishing the innocent. The result is closing our borders and further alienating ourselves from the worldwide crisis. May God have mercy upon us and not deal with us every so severely should we take the latter attitude.
 This and other questions are raised in an article title: “Paris attacks: Fighting Islamic State at home and abroad” by Jonathan Marcus of the BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34829617). The questions are: But to what extent was there a lapse in security? Might or even should the French intelligence services have stopped this attack? And what about the broader campaign against the so-called Islamic State (IS) abroad? Is anything likely to change there in the wake of the murderous carnage on the streets of the French capital?
 “The Impact of ISIS on the Homeland and Refugee Resettlement” by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 19 November 2015 http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/The_Impact_of_ISIS_on_the_Homeland_Refugee.pdf