“When we look at what’s happening in Syria and the needs of 21 million refugees around the world, we think that this is our time as Catholics to be the Good Samaritan, regardless of what is expected of us from countries overseas,” Jill Maria Gershutz-Bell, senior legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services, told CNA of the proposed order.
“It’s our turn to show – or really, to maintain – our leadership in welcoming the lost and the least,” she continued, saying CRS was “very concerned” about the reported executive order.
President Donald Trump will reportedly sign an executive order this week halting the influx of refugees into the U.S., except in the cases of religious minorities fleeing persecution. He could also be suspending visas issued to persons from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya.
The temporary ban could last four months, and presidential approval could be required to renew refugee resettlement from Syria.
The reports came the same day as Trump signed executive orders directing that a wall be built on the U.S.-Mexico border, “sanctuary cities” harboring undocumented immigrants be barred from federal funds, and deportations be sped up.
Americans must remember that refugees “are victims” themselves, Gershutz-Bell insisted.
The number of persons worldwide displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded at over 65 million, including over 21 million refugees, according to the United Nations’ refugee office in a 2016 report.
“Wars and persecution” have caused massive numbers of people to flee their homes, including a years-long civil war in Syria, and conflicts in the South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Yemen.
Three countries have produced half the world’s refugees, the UN noted: Syria (4.9 million), Somalia (1.1 million), and Afghanistan (2.7 million). Two of those countries, Syria and Somalia, would be on Trump’s reported visa ban list.
Refugees “need to have the opportunity to demonstrate that they don’t intend any harm to the United Sates, but in fact they’re fleeing the same kind of violence that we’re trying to protect ourselves from,” Gershutz-Bell said.
Accepting and resettling refugees is part of the Catholic mission, she added.
“Pope Francis has been unequivocal about this, and the Catholic Church in the United States has been a leader in responding to refugees for really decades now. It’s part of what it means to be Catholic,” Gershutz-Bell told CNA.
Catholic University of America president John Garvey also spoke out against policies restricting immigration in an op-ed on Tuesday, calling for “an immigration policy rooted in charity and hospitality.”
“We should ‘welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin,’” he said, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2241. “And nations should respect the natural right ‘that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him’,” he continued.
“This generous approach to immigration is neither politically expedient nor free of risk,” he noted. “Many citizens have argued in good faith for a more restrictive policy. But would you not love and admire a country that opened its doors to the tired, the poor, the wretched and the homeless, even if they could not promise it a fair return for its hospitality?”
CRS also reported “indications” that another executive order might direct the State Department and the Defense Department to set up “safe zones” for refugees in and around the Syrian conflict.
“We have really serious concerns about that. The details of a safe zone and how that would be implemented would be critical,” Gershutz-Bell said. “They can actually end up putting targets on the backs of civilians if they’re not carefully executed.”
By Matt Hadro