By Brian McVicar
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Bethany Christian Services is urging President Donald Trump's administration to reconsider its push to restrict the number of refugees accepted into the U.S., saying there's an economic and humanitarian case for helping people fleeing war and persecution.
"We're deeply concerned that it could be zeroed out or brought down to just a level that's so low it doesn't have any impact," said Chris Palusky, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit, who met Tuesday with members of Vice President Mike Pence's staff to share his concerns.
Bethany, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit, resettles refugees in Michigan and Pennsylvania. It says it's the largest resettlement agency for unaccompanied refugee minors in the U.S.
The Associated Press reported Sept. 7 that officials in the Trump administration have proposed capping the number of refugees permitted into the U.S. at 15,000 or less.
That's down from the current cap of 30,000 refugees, the AP reported, and significantly below the 110,000 cap President Barack Obama set during his last year in office.
Palusky said he met with representatives of the vice president's office for about an hour and a half Tuesday. He said he discussed the humanitarian case for helping people fleeing war and persecution, as well as the economic impact those refugees have on the businesses that hire them once they arrive in the U.S.
He said Michigan businesses, through a partnership with Bethany, have hired over 5,000 refugees since 2009.
Palusky said he's hopeful the administration will consider his concerns.
"We have such an opaque view of the process," he said. "I would like to say I'm optimistic. I don't know. All we can do is advocate, pray and continue to have voices, to speak up for those that have no voice."
Bethany has resettled refugees, a group that encompasses individuals, families and unaccompanied minors, since 1975. This fiscal year, it expects to resettle about 400 refugees in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo area and 140 refugees in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The 400 refugees Bethany is resettling in West Michigan is a record high for Bethany.
That's because refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo represent the largest group of refugees entering the U.S., and Bethany is one of the largest Congolese refugee resettlement agencies, said Nate Bult, Bethany's vice president of public and government affairs.
Last month, Bethany Christian Services and a group of 36 businesses and organizations sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the administration to "consider the positive contributions refugees make in our communities."
"Refugees are vital to the continuing prosperity of our communities — they pay taxes, help grow our economy and bring unique skillsets, experiences, and insights," according to Bethany's letter, which was signed by companies such as Steelcase, Suburban Inns and Haworth, as well as the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
"They improve our state's quality of life and are helping shape Michigan's opportunities for continued growth."
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