CRS president: Denying entry to refugees won't make U.S. safer

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tomas Bravo, Reuters

By Barb Fraze and Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While U.S. elected officials have an
obligation to protect the security of Americans, denying entry to desperate
refugees will not make the country safer, said the president and CEO of
Catholic Relief Services.

Sean Callahan, head of CRS, said, “Welcoming those in
need is part of America’s DNA.”

“CRS welcomes measures that will make our country
safer, but (such measures) shouldn’t jeopardize the safety of those fleeing
violence (and) should not add appreciable delay nor entail unjust
discrimination,” he said in a statement released Jan. 26.

Callahan was anticipating a presidential memorandum on
national security, a draft of which calls for suspension of the U.S. Refugee
Admissions Program for 120 days. The suspension would allow officials at the
state and homeland security departments to review the application and
decision-making process and determine the need for additional procedures to
ensure that refugees approved for admission do not pose a threat to the U.S.

Once the refugee admissions process resumes, refugee claims
would be reviewed and those fleeing religious persecution would be prioritized
as long as they fled a nation where their religion is in the minority,
according to the draft, which President Donald Trump had not signed by Jan. 26.

It also calls for an immediate 30-day suspension of entry
into the U.S. of individuals from countries designated by the Consolidated
Appropriations Act of 2016: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“People seeking refuge in the United States and
elsewhere are victims — often of the same terrorists from whom we must protect
ourselves,” Callahan said, noting that the U.S. was founded as a nation of

“As a Catholic agency founded on the social and moral
teachings of the church, we must act based on our values and echo the Holy
Father, who said ‘there must be no family without a home, no refugee without a
welcome, no person without dignity,'” Callahan said, quoting Pope Francis.

“This is not just a Catholic message; this is an
American message. It is the message we should be sending to those in need
around the world,” he said.

“Protecting America means protecting the moral values
embedded in our foundation. These values make our nation great,” he said.

Some people in the United States and Europe have expressed
concerns that people emigrating from majority-Muslim countries in the Middle
East and North Africa were infiltrating the West as terrorists posing as migrants.
The draft executive memorandum, “Protecting the National From Terrorist
Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” was designed to address that fear.

The draft memorandum said that with the end of refugee
processing for Syrians, the state and defense departments must produce a plan
within 90 days to provide safe areas in Syria and the surrounding region where
Syrian nationals can await resettlement.

The U.S. State Department Refugee Processing Center reported
that, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2016, more than 12,587 Syrians were
received for asylum in the United States. It said 9,880 Iraqis were received.
The two combined were 27 percent of refugees admitted to the United States last

Bill O’Keefe, CRS vice president for government relations
and advocacy, spoke to CNS Jan. 25, shortly after his return from a mid-January
visit to northern Iraq.

“I met families who, the night before, had walked
through mine fields to escape ISIS (Islamic State),” he told CNS. “They
had gotten to the limits of their means and fled when their young daughters
were at an age to be at risk of seizure as sex slaves by ISIS. These are the
kinds of people who are fleeing, and they need our help. They are fleeing the
people we are afraid of; they are not the people we are afraid of.”

He said profiling applied to Muslims today could be applied
to Catholics tomorrow.

“Every religion has extremists,” O’Keefe said. “We
don’t want to prevent innocent people from coming because there are extremists.
That’s why we have a vetting system in place.”

O’Keefe said it currently takes 18-24 months to vet a
refugee, “and the vetting is already extreme. It can’t get more extreme.
And the people who are fleeing the worst kind of violence in Syria, Iraq and
other countries deserve safe haven as human beings, and we can provide that for
the most vulnerable of them.”

In a November 2015 interview with Catholic News Service,
Jane E. Bloom, head of U.S. office of the International Catholic Migration
Commission, told CNS refugees initially are selected for resettlement by the
staff of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The Catholic migration commission
is one of the worldwide agencies working with the U.N. refugee agency in
processing people chosen for resettlement.

Before the commission vets Syrians, the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security conducts its own screening, Bloom said. Only then can ICMC
staff members begin vetting under State Department rules, collecting
biographical and family information, and learning why a family fled their home
in the first place, she explained.

“When it comes to vetting, refugees — and in
particular Syrian refugees — are the most vetted I have come to work with in
the last 30 years,” Bloom told CNS.

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