A Conversation About Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Issues

Jacob Eckeberger
February 16th, 2017

Issues of immigration and refugee resettlement are on our Facebook feeds, in the news and on our students’ minds. Regardless of our political leanings, one direction we can all lean is into deeper conversations with students as we help them process and respond.

YouthWorks serves alongside a handful of organizations who work with immigrants and refugees. Click here for a list that may be helpful as you consider how you might get involved.

Additionally, Youth Specialties recently had a conversation around immigration and refugee resettlement issues. We’ve summarized some highlights from the conversation below as well as included the video of the conversation.

Our hope is that in the midst of political debate and strong opinions, we don’t miss the opportunity to love and serve our neighbors—the people in our country and in our communities who feel afraid, alone and unwanted. We hope you will ask with us, “What can we do?”—but that you will do more than ask by responding with compassionate service.

An Immigration & Refugee Conversation

The following is a dialog around immigration and refugee resettlement issues hosted by Youth Specialties’ Jacob Eckeberger. Taking part in the conversation are Youth Pastor Nate Severson (Hillcrest Covenant Church in Overland Park, Kan.), Associate Pastor Christina Suos (Minneapolis Cambodian Church in Minneapolis) and Senior Immigrant Analyst Annie Rice (St. Louis).

At the beginning of the conversation, Jacob pointed out that this is a big issue that we can’t completely cover, but we can set the table to help youth workers lean into difficult topics with their students.

Our aim is not to pick sides, but to help teenagers find and follow Jesus and disciple them to live out the love and work of God.

Why should we care about this issue?

  • It’s a powerful experience when we can be present with people and enter into people’s stories with them. It creates opportunities for deeper conversations and mutual sharing.
  • Many people have refugee roots. Christina shared about the Cambodian community she serves. During the Cambodian genocide (1975-1979) up to 3 million people were killed and many refugees fled their country, some of whom ended up in the U.S.
  • Our compassionate response to this issue is important for how people on the fringes of Christianity see us.
  • Sometimes our students can resist doing something because they don’t feel “called,” but Jesus has commissioned all of us to love and come alongside people.

What are some of the struggles immigrants and refugees face?

  • Churches who work with immigrants and refugees have to deal with deportation and naturalization processes for families. It’s a matter of helping people connect with the right resources and being sensitive to their needs.
  • Refugees have to wonder, “How do we fit into a new culture, but still maintain our culture?” It is also difficult for the younger generation of refugees, who grow up in America, to understand the older generation, and this can cause further conflict and stress.

What should I know about immigration history in the U.S.?

  • There are three main ways a person can legally come into the United States: immigration through family; immigration through business, and humanitarian immigration (refugee and asylum populations).
  • The U.S. has welcomed 3 million refugees since the 1970s. Last year the U.S. admitted between 85,000 and 110,000 refugees into the U.S., which is a small slice of the 21.3 million refugees in the world today.
  • A refugee program came into place after World War II after the U.S. had turned down a ship of refugees from Nazi-occupied areas. Over 200 of the refugees sent back were eventually killed in concentration camps.
  • The United States’ criteria for receiving refugees into the country is to accept a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
  • A refugee’s path to eventually settling in the U.S. includes getting to a U.N.-sanctioned camp, then going through an 18-to-24-month application and screening process. Refugees are then designated to a country to be relocated; they don’t choose their own. Once assigned to the U.S. the FBI and Department of State take over the screening process. Upon arrival to the U.S., the Department of State contracts with agencies in particular cities to receive the refugees and give them a 3-to-6-month window of financial assistance.

What can I do to help refugees locally?

  • You don’t have to be an expert to come alongside refugees. Make yourself available to organizations who already support refugees.
  • Whatever we believe about this issue, our generalized statements can come across as very personal to some; plus, it can shape the perceptions of others for better or for worse, so we can be careful with how we say what we say.
  • One way to care is through mission trips that allow us to engage with the world on a global level. The question becomes, “How do we connect what we do globally with what we do locally?” A significant part of that might be to connect locally with refugees.
  • It’s good to recognize that not every immigrant has the same story. Each person has gone through their own unique set of circumstances.
  • When we encounter people on the street, we have no way of knowing by what means they have entered the U.S. Our goal should not be to figure out how a person got here, but to love them for their humanity – as a person created by God. In fact, asking those questions about how a person arrived in the U.S. can be fear-inducing for immigrants.
  • Little things matter. Helping refugees recognize that people care through giving a ride to the store or having them over for dinner may seem small, but it can make a world of difference.


There are certainly more answers to these questions above. How would you answer these questions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

YouthWorks exists to connect teenagers to God, each other, and communities through life-changing, Christ-centered mission trips. We celebrate that more than 500,000 students and hundreds of communities have been impacted by YouthWorks mission trips over the last 20-plus years. Learn more at YOUTHWORKS.COM.

This post was originally published by YOUTHWORKS.COM.

Jacob Eckeberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.