Fear that immigrants will overwhelm our nation’s safety net and fear that terrorists are lurking among refugees provided the impetus for President Donald Trump’s executive orders pertaining to immigration enforcement and refugee resettlement. The U.S. bishops respectfully disagree with the president’s course of action that essentially leaves vulnerable, suffering people behind our walls — real and figurative.
President Trump last week issued an executive order to construct a physical, impenetrable structure along the United States’ border with Mexico. It is intended to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking and acts of terrorism. But it could have the opposite effect, the bishops fear. An additional 5,000 Border Patrol Agents will be hired to enhance enforcement and asylum officers and immigration judges will be hired to expedite asylum requests and immigration hearings.
Also last week, the president issued an executive order that the U.S. bishops’ Justice for Immigrants office said would have “devastating impacts on refugee resettlement in the United States.” That order halts the refugee admission program for 120 days; slashes the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. in 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000; suspends resettlement of Syrian refugees; and suspends issuance of visas to individuals from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. The president said he would give preference to Christian refugees. As supporters of religious freedom, we cannot give preference on the basis of religion. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists and the vast majority of Christians are not terrorists.
Approximately 700 miles of fencing and other barriers already exist along the 2,000-mile-long border between the United States and Mexico, constructed during former president George W. Bush’s administration. It has not impeded desperate children and adults from crossing the border in search of basic human rights: food, water, shelter, clothing and safety.
Vulnerable women and children will be more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers if the new wall is constructed, says the bishop who chairs the Committee on Migration for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, also states that the wall will destabilize vibrant, interconnected communities that live peaceably along the border. He and his brother bishops vow to follow the example of Pope Francis, “to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down walls of exclusion and exploitation.”
Prolonged human suffering and misery are among the ramifications of erecting a figurative wall between the U.S. and the seven countries targeted in the draconian refugee executive order. Our Christian faith compels us to welcome people fleeing violence and conflict around the world. The vetting process is already rigorous. Just ask newly arrived refugees living in Iowa!
In collaboration with refugee host countries, a humane U.S. resettlement program works toward fostering peace, security and stability in sensitive regions of the world, as the U.S. bishops’ Justice for Immigrants office states. Worldwide, more than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Our God calls us to help shoulder the responsibility.
Catholic social teaching refers to the common good, those things that contribute to human flourishing. The common good is an essential element of our Tradition that goes back to the Fathers of the church. And at least as far back as Thomas Aquinas, the call to reject unjust laws, even to refuse to obey them, was included as consistent with respect for authority in general.
Let us pray and reflect on how to apply the common good to immigration policy and refugee resettlement. The next step should be a visit to the Justice for Immigrants website http://tinyurl.com/hotvofb to take action on behalf of immigrants by composing a respectful electronic or printed message to President Trump and our Congress members. We can call our senators and representatives at (202) 225-3121 and leave a message stating our opposition to construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and a ban on refugees.
As people of faith we don’t have to agree with our elected leaders on every issue. We can disagree with and make known our objections to executive orders and legislation that fly in the face of human flourishing and that stoke our fear of the other.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor