by Anna Wadsworth
“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).
At a February 4 rally at Civic Center Park, a small band of parishioners carried the Saint John’s Cathedral banner in support of our Muslim neighbors. The group joined a crowd of thousands at the amphitheater, many carrying signs echoing Emma Lazarus’s sonnet—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” One sign proclaimed, “I really meant that ‘love your neighbor’ thing—God.” The sentiments of a group of Jewish protesters appeared on their signs, one reading, “‘Never again’ is now!”
Thirty bishops and priests of The Episcopal Church have issued public statements protesting the U.S. government’s ban on resettlement of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The resettlement of refugees in the United States has been open only for those who demonstrated the greatest and most immediate need for protection from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
Even so, the president’s recent Executive Order has halted the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days, reducing the number of refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000. The new policy gives preference to religious minorities in the seven countries and in effect institutes a Muslim ban. Although the Executive Order has been temporarily halted by a federal judge, the future of the ban remains uncertain.
The Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, has released the following statement: “Refugee resettlement is a form of ministry, and one that we, and many other churches and faith-based organizations, cherish. The work of Episcopal Migration Ministries is God’s work, and we show the face of God through care and compassion in that work.” In 2015 Episcopal Migration Ministries helped nearly 5,000 refugees build new lives in 30 communities across the United States. In our diocese, the program partners with Lutheran Family Services.
Presiding Bishop Curry’s statement continues: “I ask President Trump to continue the powerful work of our refugee resettlement program without interruption. . . . We ask that we continue to accept as many refugees as we have in the past, recognizing the need is greater than ever. We ask that refugees from all countries receive consideration to come to the U.S. and not to ban those who come from countries most in need of our assistance.”
The Trump administration has promised “extreme vetting” for those seeking a home in the United States, yet according to national security experts, refugees are now the most thoroughly vetted, rigorously screened people ever to come to this country. Security screenings involve the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, the National Counter-terrorism Center, and multiple intelligence agencies—all involving a process that can take 18 to 24 months, sometimes much longer, before a refugee sets foot on U.S. soil.
Each step in this process is time-sensitive, so a pause of 120 days forces refugees slated to arrive in the United States to undergo months and even years of additional delays, enduring again new rounds of fingerprinting, interviews, health screenings, and multiple security checks, all while their lives are in danger.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2). To find out more about extending a hospitable welcome to those who are persecuted, you may want to join the Episcopal Public Policy Network. EPPN (advocacy.episcopalchurch.org) will send you action alerts and a toolkit of resources to help you advocate for refugees.