While we debate the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the refugees continue to endure living conditions we’d never wish upon ourselves. Pope Francis has repeatedly asked us to welcome, not chase away a refugee. If the recently concluded Year of Mercy is to have lasting impact, then we are compelled to advocate for a fair and just refugee resettlement policy at the state and national level.
In Seattle last week, Federal Judge James Robart placed a temporary block on President Trump’s executive order that suspended resettlement of refugees from Syria and suspended issuance of visas to individuals from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Washington state and Minnesota sued the federal government, claiming the executive order is harmful to residents and is discriminatory. President Trump responded swiftly. He vows to get the judge’s order overturned immediately. For the president, it’s a matter of sticking to a promise of safety and security for the people of the United States. At press time, the travel ban remained on hold.
The U.S. bishops recognize the need for security. But through their Justice for Immigrants office they said the order has devastating impacts on refugee resettlement in the U.S. They asked Catholics to urge Congress to oppose the executive order and to urge the president to reevaluate it. The bishops called for support of a refugee program that is safe for refugees and the communities that welcome them. The current system’s vetting process is safe and rigorous, the bishops say. In fact, the Catholic Church resettled about a quarter of the 85,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2016. The majority of them were women and children.
In this week’s Catholic Messenger, Bishop Martin Amos expresses solidarity with his brother bishops in calling for humane, just policies in responding to the needs of immigrants and refugees. “The Holy Father has repeatedly called for respect and support for immigrants and refugees,” the bishop says in a letter addressed to the people of the diocese.
Also keep in mind the November 2015 statement Iowa’s bishops issued, reaffirming the Catholic Church in Iowa’s long history in assisting with 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,” the bishops said. They were responding to Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to halt resettlement of Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Iowa’s bishops assured the governor in their letter that “we can continue to work with the state on a careful process of refugee resettlement.”
We have allowed refugee resettlement to become a political issue when the lens we view it from should focus on our shared humanity, our capacity for and our need to be merciful toward one another. Pope Francis said in a meeting with Catholics and Lutherans last fall that the world needs Christians to witness God’s mercy “through service to the poorest, the sick (and) those who have abandoned their homelands in search of a better future for themselves and their families. … In putting ourselves at the service of the needy,” he said, “We will experience that we are already united; it is God’s mercy that unites us” (Catholic News Service, Oct. 13, 2016).
If mercy matters, let’s begin by discerning our personal attitudes about refugee resettlement. For people of faith, discernment includes prayer, Scripture, reading, participating in the Mass and the sacraments. In our reading, let’s consider a variety of news sources, including those we typically avoid or ignore. To be sure, The Catholic Messenger provides a bridge between news sources on either side of the political spectrum. Keep reading your diocesan newspaper. Add to it the bishops’ website (usccb.org); the Iowa Catholic Conference website (iowacatholicconference.org); and Catholic Relief Service (crs.org).
In the intercessions for Evening Prayer of Thursday, Week III, we call upon Christ, saying: “You were willing to live as a stranger in our world, be mindful of those who are separated from family and homeland.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor