WASHINGTON — Catholic bishops and relief leaders were among the critics of President Donald Trump’s order to implement stricter vetting on refugees and lower the cap for the number of refugees who can enter the United States.
Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, in his role as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the U.S. bishops “strongly disagree” with the halt on refugee admissions.
“We believe that now, more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” he said Jan. 27.
“We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost 40 years. 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.”
The bishops said they believe in aiding everyone vulnerable who is fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion, the Austin bishop said.
“We need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home and country,” Bishop Vasquez continued. “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.”
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, said the U.S. bishops’ statement “highlighted our nation’s long and proud tradition of welcoming newcomers and refugees in a humane manner, even as we have pursued a strong vetting system to ensure our safety and security.”
Bishop Burbidge encouraged Catholics to contact their elected officials to oppose the new policy.
“(O)ur communities have been and will continue to be hospitable to refugees, in keeping with our legacy of welcoming the stranger,” he said. “Together, we also pray for comprehensive immigration reform and for peace, safety and harmony within our nation and throughout the world.”
The bishops responded to a new presidential executive order announced on Friday.
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States,” President Trump said signing the order. “We don’t want ‘em here. We want to ensure we aren’t admitting into our country the very threats that our men and women are fighting overseas.”
The executive order itself does not mention Islam. It bars U.S. entry for visitors from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for three months and places broader restrictions on the U.S. refugee program.
Before signing the executive order, President Trump told Christian Broadcasting News that he would prioritize persecuted Christian refugees.
“We are going to help them,” the president said. “They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States?”
The executive order’s text does not mention Christianity either. It instructs officials involved in refugee entry “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country.”
The executive order also said the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in 2017 is detrimental to U.S. interest and should be suspended until further notice. Last year, the U.S. legal cap on refugees was 117,000 people, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
However, only about 85,000 refugees actually entered the U.S. that year, the Pew Research Center reports. Of these, 38,901 were Muslim, and 37,521 were Christian. Some critics have voiced concern that the lower cap on refugees would mean fewer persecuted Christians could secure legal entry, even if given priority treatment.
The president raised the possibility of a ban on Muslim immigration during his presidential campaign, but has objected to depictions of his new policy as a “Muslim ban.”
The executive order swiftly drew several legal challenges and prompted several mass protests at airports around the country, but it is unclear how unpopular it will prove with Americans as a whole.
Catholic relief leaders also criticized the order.
“People seeking refuge in the United States and elsewhere are victims -- often of the same terrorists from whom we must protect ourselves,” Sean Callahan, Catholic Relief Services president and CEO, said Jan. 27.
“We know the people most affected by extremists and conflict. They are people like all Americans, seeking safety and a better life for their families. In fact, in our work around the world, we depend on many of them for our own safety. They need our help -- now!”
“People fleeing violence all suffer the same, irrespective of their religion. Refugee admissions should not depend on religion. As Catholics we feel the responsibility to help all those in need,” added Bill O’Keefe, Catholic Relief Services’ vice president of government relations and advocacy.
“The most vulnerable people fleeing violence will suffer the most because of these restrictions,” he said. “The Iraqi women I met have already suffered from ‘extreme vetting’ just getting out of Islamic State-controlled areas in the middle of the night with their children.”
“Taking fewer refugees betrays the trust of refugee-hosting allies as well as vulnerable refugees,” he added. O’Keefe said that security assessments by new presidential administrations are expected, but should be “conducted in good faith and rapidly.”
Bishop Vasquez said more than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes worldwide. He said the Catholic Church will respond to this “extraordinary level of suffering.”
In addition, the president and vice president of the bishops’ conference expressed concern following the executive order: “We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.”
Editor’s Note: The following is a U.S. bishops’ Jan. 30 statement on the Trump administration executive order.
WASHINGTON — Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, have issued the following joint statement regarding the recent executive order on the new refugee policy announced by President Trump this past Friday. President Trump's executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. The order also indefinitely stops the admission of Syrian refugees and, for 90 days, bars individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Full joint statement as follows:
Over the past several days, many brother bishops have spoken out in defense of God's people. We are grateful for their witness. Now, we call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.
The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice. The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would "promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom." The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.
The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom. Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith. Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil. We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.
The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Luke 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself. Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity. Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus, and the Church will not turn away from him.
Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but, rather, to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present. And he says to each of us, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).
Editor’s Note: The following is the U.S. bishops’ Jan. 27 statement on the Trump administration executive order.
WASHINGTON — President Donald J. Trump issued today an executive order addressing the U.S. refugee admissions program and migration to the United States, generally. The executive order virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000 individuals, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees. In addition, it prioritizes religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, thereby deprioritizing all other persons fleeing persecution; calls for a temporary bar on admission to the United States from a number of countries of particular concern (all Muslim-majority); and imposes a yet-to-be determined new vetting process for all persons seeking entry to the United States.
Regarding the executive order’s halt and reduction of admissions, Bishop Joe 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 continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost 40 years. 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.”
Regarding the executive order’s ban on Syrian refugees, the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, Bishop Vásquez added:
“The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. 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.”
Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vásquez concluded:
“Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern.”