Faith-based organizations — which have a long history in resettling refugees in the United States — are concerned by the reactionary responses to Syrian refugees in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris and Beirut, warning that it’s not appropriate to scapegoat refugees in national conversations about preventing terrorism.
So far, 31 governors have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want Syrian refugees in their states. Some Congressional lawmakers are going so far as to introduce bills to block taxpayer benefits for refugees from “high-risk countries.” Many of these lawmakers identify as Christian and say that Biblical virtues guide their policies — yet their positions against the resettlement of Syrian refugees perhaps go against those values.
About 1,500 refugees have been resettled in the United States since Syrian’s civil war began in 2011. The Obama administration has since called to resettle upwards of 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.
Amid the xenophobic response to the attacks, religious organizations are instead calling to separate the actions of terrorists from the desperation of people fleeing terror. Here are a few examples of faith-based groups that have issued statements welcoming refugees:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration issued a statement this week calling on Americans to welcome refugees.
“Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive,” the president of the USCCB said. “As a great nation, the United States must show leadership during this crisis.”
Pope Francis has long called for European parishes to take in Syrian refugee families. During his visit to the United States two months ago, he also emphasized caring for immigrants, notably those who are vulnerable and undocumented. Catholic Charities also actively works to resettle refugees.
“To close the door on resettling Syrian refugees would be nothing less than signing a death warrant for tens of thousands of families fleeing for their very lives. As Christians, as Americans, and as global citizens — we must choose to stand for hope and life,” Linda Hartke, the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, wrote in a blog post this week. “We are a nation and people that stand up to those who slaughter innocents. We stand with the most vulnerable who seek safety and a future. And we stand for welcome.”
Hartke’s organization works directly with refugees in the United States, including helping connect them with job trainings and employment resources.
“We cannot allow the violence wrought by ISIS and its allies to overshadow our values as Americans and as Reform Jews,” the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said this week. “As Jewish tradition teaches, ‘and each shall sit under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid’ (Micah 4:4). We can ensure our security and fulfill our highest aspirations as a nation rooted in compassion and commitment to religious liberty.”
Refugee resettlement is an issue that some Jews may understand very well. In 1938, on the eve of World War II, fewer than 5 percent of Americans surveyed at the time wanted to raise immigration quotas and encourage political refugees and two-thirds wanted to keep them out, the Washington Post reported.
“We are horrified and heartbroken by the terrorist atrocities in Paris, but must not forget that there are thousands more victims of these same terrorists who are fleeing Syria with their families and desperately need someplace to go,” Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), said in a statement this week. “Our system is designed to keep terrorists out and to help desperate families with little children. We want to help the victims of terrorism in the Middle East, not punish them.”