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  2. Immigrants & Refugees

Immigration & Refugee Policy: Treating Causes, Not Symptoms

We advocate for policies that live up to our values: welcoming the stranger, advancing religious freedom, and helping those in need.


President Trump campaigned on getting tough on immigration. He promised to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall” and to ban Muslim immigrants from the U.S. Using the leverage of Congress and the courts, FCNL and other advocates have been pushing back.

Key actions:

  • The BRIDGE Act (S. 128/H.R. 496) was introduced to protect certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
  • Appropriators are weighing the president’s budget request, including billions in new funding for border militarization and detention and cuts for refugee assistance.
  • Two appeals courts blocked the president’s Muslim and refugee ban, but the Supreme Court allowed parts of the executive order to go into effect.

In late January, he released executive orders that barred travelers, immigrants, and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries; aggressively ramped up immigration enforcement; and ordered the building of the border wall.

The president has gone back on his campaign promise to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents to work or complete school. This decision came as FCNL and our allies gained increasing congressional support for the BRIDGE Act, bipartisan House and Senate legislation that would maintain DACA’s protections. Public outcry against the president’s Muslim and refugee ban, meanwhile, may have influenced appeals court decisions to block its implementation. FCNL joined in amicus briefs and protests against the executive order.

We’ve been able to slow progress on the administration’s agenda, but we haven’t halted it entirely. The Supreme Court ruled in June that portions of the travel ban can go into effect, instituting a bar on most visitors and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. While Congress has not yet approved money for the border wall and stepped up immigration enforcement, those elements of the president’s budget proposal are very much on the table. The House recently passed several bills to increase enforcement and detention, and legislation that would undermine refugee resettlement and limit access to asylum are under consideration.

From one perspective, the fact that these proposals are not yet law is a sign of progress. In immigration policy as in so many other areas, the Trump administration has backed down or moved more slowly than we anticipated. Yet merely being less badly off than we anticipated isn’t good enough.

Our immigration system is challenged by global economic, military, and environmental crises. Refugees from Syria and the Middle East—displaced in part because of U.S. military action—are looking for safety. Children and families are fleeing violence in Central America. Mexican laborers are seeking work.

Today, we are challenged to live up to our values: welcoming the stranger, advancing religious freedom, and helping those most in need

The immigration system has been buckling under the strain for decades. Byzantine rules and long processing backlogs have made it difficult for people wanting legal residency. Millions have chosen to circumvent the system, risking their lives to cross the U.S. border illegally. Around the world, refugee camps turn into tent cities as families remain in limbo, unable to return home but also unable to start a new life.

President Obama and, to an even greater extent President Trump, have focused on the symptoms of these problems more than the cause. Under the Obama administration, immigration raids, detentions, and deportations increased. The Trump administration is accelerating these kinds of policies, making immigration enforcement more punitive and clamping down even on the meager openings for refugees and asylum-seekers. If enacted, the president’s budget would reduce annual refugee admissions, cut billions from funds to resettle refugees, spend \$2.6 billion on a border wall, and increase the immigration enforcement budget by 23 percent.

What’s more, President Trump’s broad-brush approach is increasing fear among immigrants, regardless of their legal status. Trump’s election legitimized a view of immigrants as outsiders at best and criminals at worst. Those who agree with Trump’s statements have felt more freedom to act on their views. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented dramatic increases in reported hate crimes over the past two years, especially in the months after the 2016 election and especially for crimes directed at Muslims.

A row of people hold pro-refugee signs on the sidewalk.

Today, we are challenged to live up to our values: welcoming the stranger, advancing religious freedom, and helping those most in need. Immigrants and refugees enrich our country and our culture. FCNL continues to advocate for compassion in the U.S. immigration system, viewing immigrants as members of rather than a threat to U.S. communities.

Millions of people face disrupted lives, harm, harassment, and displacement because of our country’s failure to fix its immigration system. We keep these people in our heads and our hearts as we undertake to improve this system, and we bring those stories into our meetings with members of Congress. Remembering the people affected by these policies motivates and energizes this work, even when it seems like we are running up against a wall. Every now and then, the wall moves a few inches, which also gives us hope. Although we forget as a country, we are a nation of immigrants. We gain more than we lose when we remember this truth.

Washington Newsletter Washington Newsletter: Persistence + Resistance 

July 2017

Today, much of this work is defensive as we advocate against attempts to gut environmental protections, ban refugees, cut funding for peacebuilding policies that prevent war, and destroy the safety net for those who fall through our country’s economic cracks. We are leading efforts to oppose Pentagon spending increases and tax cuts for the wealthiest people in our country at the expense of the health and well-being of millions.