Religious leaders condemn refugee ban


President Trump’s executive order that temporarily suspends entrance to the U.S. of any immigrants from Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen, as well as totally barring Syrian refugees, has drawn much ire from religious leaders.

From the Jewish community, condemnations came from the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, American Jewish World Service, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, and both the Conservative and Reform movements.

In essence, their reaction was capsulized by the sentiment of the American Jewish World Service statement: “These policies violate the best traditions of the United States, international human rights law and our deepest Jewish values. We call on all Americans from every community to join us in speaking out against these policies, which will directly threaten the lives of thousands of people who desperately and urgently need sanctuary in our country. … We understand all too well what it means to deny safe harbor to persecuted people who are seeking refuge, and we believe we are at risk of returning to the days when the United States tragically acted with indifference to Jewish and other refugees from Europe during World War II.”

The Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization reacted to the executive order by stating, “These orders will have an adverse impact on American Muslim families trying to connect with visiting relatives from overseas and parents seeking medical treatments. The orders will tarnish our image in the Muslim world, making us seem uncaring and hard-hearted. This ban does not make our country safer. Instead, it serves to stigmatize Muslim refugees and the entire American Muslim community. It will hand a propaganda tool to our enemies who promote the false narrative of an American war on Islam. …We are always strongest as a nation when we stand together in defense of the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees.”

The National Council of Churches’ Rev. Steven Martin offered solidarity with the Muslim community as well as other immigrants who will likely be affected by the executive order, and said, “I cannot believe that state sponsored persecution against a class of Americans is taking place. Even though I’ve been watching it grow, I cannot believe it!”

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Michael Curry, said, “The work of Episcopal Migration Ministries is God’s work, and we show the face of God through the care and compassion in that work. I ask President Trump to continue the powerful work of our refugee resettlement program without interruption, recognizing the long wait and screening process that means refugees wait months and sometimes years to enter the country. 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.”

Catholic Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, stated, “We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones. … However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

Two of our new American cardinals also made comments about the ban.

Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago said, “The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values. These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life. They lower our estimation in the eyes of the many peoples who want to know America as a defender of human rights and religious liberty, not a nation that targets religious populations and then shuts its doors on them.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said, “Wednesday’s Executive Actions do not show the United States to be an open and welcoming nation. They are the opposite of what it means to be an American. Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts. Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.”

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.