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Photo: Silvia Zigterman
Panelists speak about refugee resettlement.
Photo by Silvia Zigterman

Loop Christian Reformed Church in downtown Chicago hosted an informational panel discussion in on the refugee resettlement process and the implications U.S. refugee policies on national security and the economy.

The event was hosted by Loop Church’s Welcoming the Stranger missional community, which focuses on refugees and immigration issues.

The discussion panel featured speakers from three of the resettlement agencies operating in Chicago as well as Loop Church Pastor Mark Brouwer, and Nasir Zakaria, a former refugee and founder of the Rohingya Cultural Center in Chicago.

The late-September event occurred the day after news broke of the President Trump’s determination to set the ceiling for refugee admissions at 45,000, the lowest number since the Refugee Act was signed in 1980.

Within this context, Sara Aardema of World Relief Chicago detailed the current global refugee crisis and how, despite the low admissions number, the current worldwide refugee population is historically high (22.5 million), roughly equivalent to the population of France.

She was joined by Michael Krepps of the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago and Katie Neginskey of Heartland Alliance in explaining how the refugee resettlement process both overseas and post-arrival in the United States works.

After hearing from the resettlement agency panel members, Pastor Brouwer spoke of Loop Church’s experience in sponsoring a refugee family and the importance of the church being attuned to and vocal about issues of justice, citing Micah 6:8 and the call “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Zakaria then shared his personal experience as a refugee, which included estrangement from his family and a 27-year wait to enter the U.S. He then spoke of his decision to devote his life to helping his fellow refugees living in Chicago and those left behind in Burma and refugee camps.

He also talked about the work his center does in providing daycare, English classes, and job training services to his fellow immigrants.

Throughout the discussion, the implications of refugee policies on the economy were discussed; in particular, the administration’s own Department of Health and Human Services report that found that over the past decade refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over associated costs.

The panelists also discussed the national security implications involved and the stated bipartisan agreement among past federal security agency leaders that resettling refugees stabilizes U.S. Middle Eastern allies and that failing to do so fuels a narrative damaging to counter-terrorism efforts.

Finally, during audience question and answer, the panelists shared their thoughts on steps that can be taken to support refugees.

The suggestions included calling one’s congressman to let them know that you support policies that welcome refugees, including the full funding with thin the federal budget of programs that benefit refugees.

Panelists also encouraged advocacy for refugees within each of one’s own individual spheres of influence. Those with whom we have relationships with will also be those most receptive to considering our point of view, they said.

While some evangelical Christians have spoken out in support of the U.S, refugee policy, said panel members, it is important that those who want to see the U.S. to change its course to embrace more refugees to speak up as well.