For all the talk about security concerns, let’s call legislation aimed at banning refugees from the U.S. what it truly is: discrimination. The overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees are not terrorists. These horrific acts of terrorism caused by a few, most recently in Paris, cause us to focus on our fears. The terrorists are Islamic extremists claiming to act in the name of religion, so we view all Syrians and Iraqis as suspects simply because they are Muslims.
We should be appalled that our U.S. House of Representatives, in a rare display of unity, decisively approved legislation that would require more rigorous measures before any Syrian or Iraqi refugees gain admittance to the U.S. We should tell U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst to not support this legislation when it comes to a vote in the Senate. We should persuade Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to reconsider his decision to close the door, even temporarily, on refugees. We have the means to screen them carefully.
Iowa’s bishops issued a statement last week calling for a humane, careful process of refugee resettlement. We commend them for issuing the statement, taking time during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting to compose their thoughts on the electronic tablet of one of the Iowa bishops. Their statement, appearing on the front page of this week’s Catholic Messenger, points out that the “Catholic Church in Iowa has a decades-long history in assisting with the resettlement of refugees from across the globe. Out of respect for human life and dignity, welcoming the homeless and the stranger is a fundamental part of our faith. Refugees are typically among the most vulnerable people in the world, fleeing dangerous situations and looking to protect their families and children.”
Fifty years ago, as the Second Vatican Council neared conclusion, our church released a profound document intended to heal the wounds between Christians and non-Christians and to nurture positive relationships. “Nostra Aetate” (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) is a short but insightful document on how we Christians are to regard our non-Christian brothers and sisters who share planet Earth with us. Please take time to read “Nostra Aetate” (available on the Internet and in book stores). We can’t resist sharing some of the insights in this space: “The church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity” (No. 3). The Council further declared “There is no basis therefore, either in theory or in practice for any discrimination between individual and individual, or between people and people arising either from human dignity or from the rights which flow from it” (No. 5).
Much has appeared in print and broadcast about the need to protect American citizens from the likes of a Syrian terrorist who bragged about his ability to travel undetected between his homeland and Europe. Now dead, he is accused of having led the Nov. 13 attack on innocent people in Paris. We grieve for the loss of life and pray for the loved ones left behind. We would honor our allies, who gifted us with the Statue of Liberty, and our faith in a merciful God, by accepting refugees of all walks of life who already undergo careful security checks.
Consider this thoughtful, heartfelt posting on Facebook: “It is so scary to think about bringing Syrian refugees to our neighborhoods because what if all the propaganda is right, what if there will be terrorists among them??? I admit I just don’t want to do it. But deep in my core, I know there are people who happen to have lived in Syria who are good and they need a safer place to live. Do I turn my back on them because of the acts of a few?”
Our church would respond, “No, we do not turn our backs on the refugees.”