Trump's ban of refugees ignites firestorm, but also gains support

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yeganeh Torbati, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) — As President
Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of
terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees, the action
brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders.

The largest response came from more
than 2,000 religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition who
objected to the action in a letter to the president and members of Congress. The
heads of Catholic charitable agencies, organizations working with immigrants and
Catholic education leaders also decried the president’s action.

The action also drew supporters,
with organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and some church leaders saying
it was necessary to protect the country’s security.

Trump signed the memorandum,
titled “The
Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United
States,” during a
Jan. 27 ceremony at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes as new Secretary of Defense James Mattis
was sworn in. The president also signed a second executive action designed to
build the strength of the U.S. military.

Regarding the refugee action,
Trump said it was meant to keep “Islamic terrorists out of the United
States. We don’t want ’em here. We want to make sure they don’t enter the
country.” He added, “The only ones we want to admit into our country
are those who will support our county and deeply love our people. We will never
forget the lessons of 9/11.”

memorandum suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and
bans entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq,
Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days. It also establishes a
religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious
minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

seven countries previously were identified under guidelines established in the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and
Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. The act includes a provision
that allows the Department of Homeland Security’s to limit Visa Waiver Program
travel for certain individuals who have traveled to the seven countries.

The religious leaders’ letter
said the U.S. has an “urgent moral responsibility to receive refugees and
asylum seekers who are in dire need of safety.” The correspondence called
on elected officials to “be bold in choosing moral, just policies that
provide refuge for vulnerable individuals seeking protection.”

The leaders also insisted that
the U.S. refugee resettlement program remain open to all nationalities and religions
that face persecution. They decried “derogatory language” about Middle
Eastern refugees and Muslims in particular, adding that refugees “are an
asset to this country,” serving as “powerful ambassadors of the
American dream and our nation’s founding principles of equal opportunity,
religious freedom and liberty and justice for all.”

Among Catholics signing the
letter were Bishop Frank J.
Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut; Jesuit Father Timothy P. Kesicki,
president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Mercy
Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; and
Sister Ellen Kelly, congregational leader of the Congregation of Our Lady of
Charity of the Good Shepherd.

an interview with Catholic News Service Jan. 30 from Geneva, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, secretary general
of the International Catholic Migration Commission, recalled church
teaching that holds “we should always welcome the stranger” just as
“Jesus taught us by his example.”

explained how the commission has helped about 1 million people since it began
collaborating with the U.S. government in 1975. The commission has helped
refugees with their applications for entry into the U.S. because of the
complexity of the process and its attention to national security.

Vitillo called that work an “overwhelmingly positive” experience. He
also recalled how much of America was settled by immigrants and built by their

hope the U.S. will stay faithful to that kind of response,” he added.

Archbishop William E. Lori of
Baltimore called for prayer as the country responds to the series of immigration-
related memorandum signed by the president since Jan. 20. He specifically cited
the need for prayers for the nation’s leaders and “the people who call
this country their home, including our immigrant sisters and brothers.”

we affirm the right of sovereign nations to control their borders, we likewise
affirm our moral responsibility to respect every human being’s dignity. We must
remember that those fleeing horrendous and unspeakable violence and grinding
poverty have the right, as children of God, to provide for the basic needs of
themselves and their families,” Archbishop Lori wrote in a Jan. 30
open letter to Catholics in the archdiocese.

after Trump signed the memorandum, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who is Catholic,
commended the action, saying “our number one responsibility is to protect
the homeland.”

“We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement
program, but it’s time to re-evaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process. President
Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly
who is entering our country,” Ryan said.

in the evening, Dominican
Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic
Charities USA,
expressed concern for the change in U.S. policy.

“I am especially worried about the
innocent children and mothers who have fled for their lives without support and
are now caught in this regrettable and terribly frightening situation,” she
said in a statement. “While I certainly appreciate the importance of
vetting to ensure the safety of our country, I also believe we must treat those
who are most vulnerable with compassion and mercy and with hearts willing to be
opened wide in the face of dire human need.”

Officials with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. said the memorandum erodes the U.S. commitment to protect refugees,
weakens national security and harms the country’s standing in the
international community.

“Refugees have enriched our society in countless
ways. These newcomers seek protection and the promise of equality, opportunity
and liberty that has made our country thrive. When we reject refugees, we
negate the welcome that was given to so many of our ancestors,” Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange,
California, chairman of CLINIC’s board of directors.

Atkinson, CLINIC executive director, added that the U.S must protect
refugees rather than reject them because of misplaced fear, especially “when
war and persecution have driven more people to flee in search of safety than
any other time in modern history.”

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, writing on his blog Jan. 27, raised the 40-year-long
concern of the U.S. bishops of the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
He wrote that the status of 11 million people who are in the U.S. without
documents must be addressed with compassion and with respect for the country’s

“The Catholic
voice in the immigration debate calls for reform based on reason, compassion
and mercy for those fleeing violence and persecution,” the blog post said.
“At a pastoral level, in our country and in the Archdiocese of Boston, the
church must be a community which provides pastoral care, legal advice and
social services to refugees and immigrants, as we have done in this archdiocese
for more than one hundred years. We will continue this important work through
our parishes, Catholic Charities and our Catholic schools.

country has the opportunity to respond to the reality of immigration with
policies and practices which reflect our deepest religious and social
principles. Together let us make the commitment to be a beacon of light and
hope for those who look to us in their time of need,” Cardinal O’Malley

Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit sent a letter Jan. 28 to the Imam’s Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council
to express his support for migrants and refugees of all faiths and countries of

The letter, he wrote, reaffirms his
“solidarity” with the statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops opposing Trump’s executive memorandum.

“Please know that the Catholic community will
continue to speak out and care for immigrants and refugees, no matter their
religion or their country of origin,” the letter said.

Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the
University of Notre Dame, called on Trump to rescind his action because
it “halts the work of valued students and colleagues who have already
passed a rigorous, post-9/11 review process, are vouched for by the university
and have contributed so much to our campuses.”

If the new policy stands, “it
will over time diminish the scope and strength of the educational and research
efforts of American universities, which have been the source not only of
intellectual discovery but of economic innovation for the United States and
international understanding for our world,” Father Jenkins said in a
statement. “And, above all, it will demean our nation, whose true
greatness has been its guiding ideals of fairness, welcome to immigrants,
compassion for refugees, respect for religious faith and the courageous refusal
to compromise its principles in the face of threats.”

“I join with
my brother bishops in the effort to work vigorously to ensure that refugees are
humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as
Americans,” said Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina. He noted
with disappointment two refugee families scheduled to arrive in Charlotte the
week of Jan. 30 have been turned away.

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities
Jan. 29 voiced “strong opposition” to the president’s immigration policy.
“We stand in solidarity with other Catholic and higher education
organizations that recognize the moral obligation of our country to assist
migrants, particularly those who are fleeing any kind of persecution,” the
organization said.

Also opposing the memorandum
were the Franciscan Action Network, Leadership Conference of Women Religious
and PICO National Network.

One portion of Trump’s executive
memorandum — the creation of safe zones for victims of Middle East conflict —
was welcomed by In Defense of
Christians, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“The creation of these
zones in the Middle East demonstrates a renewed commitment of U.S. leadership
in the world, which will advance the national security and humanitarian interests
of the U.S., Andrew Doran, the group’s
vice president and senior policy adviser, said in a statement.

In Defense of
Christians said vulnerable
groups in war-torn countries should be assisted in efforts to promote local
security and governance that stabilize communities and protect civilians so
that peace and reconciliation can occur.

The organization also called for implementation
of improved security screening by U.S. agencies to ensure the safety of refugees
and American citizens.

The International Organization for Migration and the
U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees Jan. 28 urged the U.S. to continue its leading role in resettling
refugees, especially in a time when the needs of migrating people have never
been greater.

“We strongly believe that
refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and
opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or
race,” the agencies said in a joint statement.

Members of Congress lined up
primarily along political lines, with Democrats opposing the measures and most
Republicans supporting them. About 20 Republicans voiced reservations about portions
of the action, with some describing its potential to inspire terrorists overseas
and its need to have been vetted more widely before implementation.

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