Francis Kham waited 10 years in a Malaysian refugee camp for a chance to come to the United States, the land of his dreams. That was when the country was admitting 50,000 to 75,000 refugees per year. Now, the Trump administration plans to cap refugee admissions at 18,000.

Kham, a member of the Zomi people of Myanmar, says Zomi families who made it to Portland are finding it almost impossible to help their relatives and friends come.

“We want to help them, but they are stuck in the system,” said Kham, a leader of the local Zomi community. He serves on the board of Catholic Charities of Oregon.

“We have no power over this,” said Kham, who like many Zomi is Catholic. The local Zomi community has found a home at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland.

“We are not here to harm anyone but to integrate peacefully,” said Kham, who recalls the agony of waiting in a refugee camp.

“I believed in God and I prayed before I went to sleep and when I woke up. The whole day I was thinking of coming to the United States.”

The camps offer little in schooling or jobs and going back to Myanmar is untenable because of discrimination and the moribund economy.

U.S. refugee admissions have been as high as 200,000 in 1980. They dipped to about 30,000 after the 2001 attacks but increased since then to as many as 80,000 annually in 2016. The number dropped sharply in 2017 when Trump policy went into effect.

Refugees differ from immigrants. They are strictly vetted by international policy and have been found to be in serious danger in their homelands.

The new low refugee numbers in the United States are “not only un-Christian, but un-American,” said Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody, a theologian who has met many immigrants and refugees and written about their lives. He also is a vice president and associate provost at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Father Groody said federal policy is “appealing to the worst of our instincts when our leaders should be calling forth the best of who we are as human beings.”

He contrasts the United States with Lebanon, a nation of 4 million that has welcomed 2 million refugees. He also cites Jordan, a country of 6 million that has admitted 800,000. He asked the leaders why they take such large numbers and they invariably said because it is the right thing to do, even if their voters protest.

“They will pay the political cost for the sake of the human concern,” Father Groody said. “But we pay attention to the political concerns even at the human cost. It is a scandal.”

The Catholic Church is the largest settler of refugees on the planet. In the United States, Catholic Charities aids refugees on behalf of the government, getting funding to do so. The drop in numbers has caused many agencies to halt the ministry because they are starved of funds.

But in Oregon, a bill passed earlier this year that provides two years of state money for refugee services like those provided by Catholic Charities. State Rep. Carla Piluso, a Gresham Democrat and a member of St. Henry Parish, carried House Bill 2508, which passed both chambers with only three no votes. Like the Middle Eastern officials, she thinks welcoming refugees is the right thing to do. She also thinks it’s good for Oregon.

“It’s part of our values as Oregonians to welcome newcomers,” Piluso said. “But we can’t forget that refugees make our state better. When we set refugees on the path to success, everyone is better off. Refugees are highly successful when given the proper supports.”

Piluso said refugees own businesses at higher rates than U.S.-born Americans and bring skills and backgrounds to the U.S. that are good for the economy, like high tech, agriculture, and manufacturing. Many industries fear the loss of refugees as skilled laborers.

A study by the New American Economy Research Fund showed that refugees earned more than $77 billion in household income and paid almost $21 billion in taxes in 2015. While refugees get initial aid, by the time they have been in the country for 25 years, their median household income and tax payments exceed the median by more than 20%. Because of their youth, refugees may well be footing much of the bill for future retirees.

Matthew Westerbeck, refugee services program manager at Catholic Charities, helped educate lawmakers on refugees before the vote on HB 2508.

Westerbeck has watched as about 100 refugee resettlement programs have shut down in the United States. Because of the new refugee cap, he estimates another 50 to 100 programs will falter. He said it’s possible the actual number will be lower than the 18,000 limit.

“It will have a significant destabilizing and dismantling effect on the infrastructure for refugees,” Westerbeck said. “The administration is continuing to do everything it can to shut down refugee resettlement so we will cease to be a nation of refugees and immigrants.”

However, if Oregon is one of the few states with refugee programs, it might well see an increase in numbers, even with low federal levels, he explained.