On Wednesday, Pope Francis delivered a historic “cross-border” mass that drew 200,000 observers on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and 30,000 in El Paso, Texas. The pontiff prayed for the more than 6,000 people who have lost their lives desperately trying to cross the border in recent years. Pope Francis preached on a timely issue — the plight of Central Americans fleeing violence as they travel north in search of safety and a new life.
Pope Francis said, speaking just one hundred yards from the border, that forced migration from violence, persecution, and poverty is a “human tragedy” and a “global phenomenon.” To alleviate suffering from this tragedy, governments and aid organizations resettle refugees and provide assistance.
But this is not enough. Admissions caps remain very low. And a simple reform to change that — allowing private sector funding to increase admissions — remains outside of lawmakers priorities list. This prevents compassionate individuals and organizations like the weekly churchgoer, faith groups and congregations, and charities from further saving refugee lives. It’s a deeply flawed policy that needs to be reversed.
When Pope Francis spoke at the U.S. Congress in 2015, he said that the “world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.” He is right. The devastating reality is that there are more than 19.5 million refugees around the world. While Syria has received significant attention, a crushing disaster is also happening closer to home.
Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are home to some of the highest levels of violence in the world. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that forced gang recruitment, violence, and civil war in these countries has pushed thousands out of their homes.
These “grave injustices,” as the Pope said, drive many north in search of a better life. Many come to America but lack legal status and are not awarded asylum, opening them up to deportation. And since 2014, 83 deported refugees from these three countries were murdered shortly after returning to their home country.
Refugee admissions need to increase, but Congress is not willing to increase appropriations. To solve this, the Niskanen Center has proposed infusing private sector funding into the resettlement process in order to boost numbers. What many are unaware of is the fact that during what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, private sector donations aren’t used to resettle higher numbers of refugees.
Government hasn’t always been the main engine behind refugee resettlement. For most of American history, faith organizations have provided all of the funding for refugees. Church World Service, for example, began resettling refugees after World War II. They paid the full cost of resettlement, including housing, basic needs, and employment assistance.
In 1990, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Council on Jewish Federations entered into an agreement with the State Department to resettle Jewish refugees fleeing the Soviet Union. They paid the full cost of the more than 8,000 refugees that came to America.
The Obama administration should recognize the importance of faith communities and refugee resettlement. Tying admissions to giving is smart public policy that empowers the American philanthropic sector and aids the vulnerable.
Such an idea could work a few ways, but here’s one option: the State Department opens an account into which individuals, charities, churches, or corporations can send donations. When the account reaches a certain threshold, new refugee slots would open up automatically. It relies on the private sector without burdening the taxpayer.
If Pope Francis called upon Catholics across the nation to give generously to local churches interest in resettling refugees, the results would almost surely be remarkable. Billionaire philanthropists, small-donation millennials, immigrants from the Northern Triangle, church groups, corporations, and nonprofits would have the opportunity to save lives, and given Americans’ predisposition to philanthropy, they would almost certainly take it.
Pope Francis has argued that each of these displaced individuals are children of God that deserve to have their human dignity respected. On Wednesday, he stated, “We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones.”
America should be utilizing every possible method to save the lives of families fleeing crisis. Privately funded refugee resettlement is an easy way to bring new resources to the refugee program and create an outlet for America’s abundant generosity and provide a timely, robust response to a serious humanitarian crisis.