Refugee Plan Divides Religious Leaders

By Bruinius, Harry; Lafranchi, Howard et al. | The Christian Century, March 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Refugee Plan Divides Religious Leaders


Bruinius, Harry, Lafranchi, Howard, Gass, Henry, The Christian Century


For a week after President Trump's executive orders suspending visas and immigration to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries and temporarily stopping refugee resettlement, protesters massed outside airports, attorneys filed lawsuits across the country, and thousands of immigrants to the United States were thrown into legal limbo.

Then, a federal judge in Washington State temporarily blocked the order from being enforced nationwide, and for a time the Department of Homeland Security stopped enforcing it. The State Department allowed those with valid visas to enter the country after saying it had revoked as many as 100,000.

Previously, President Trump had said, "This is not about religion, this is about terror and keeping our country safe."

In the days following the order, customs officials detained travelers arriving from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Protesters at airports argued that these people had already been vetted and were being unfairly detained.

Yet beyond that controversy, Trump's order also includes an extra provision: once the immigration system is overhauled and a revamped "extreme vetting" process is put in place, his administration will prioritize the petitions of Christian refugees and other religious minorities fleeing persecution in war-torn regions.

"We share a concern for persecuted Christians, for Yazidis, for Shi'a Muslims," said Bill O'Keefe, head of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services. "But human need is not restricted to these groups."

O'Keefe, who traveled to Iraq earlier in January, noted that his organization works in all of the countries surrounding Syria. "We know that restricting the ability of people fleeing violence is going to jeopardize the lives of innocent people."

In prioritizing the threat faced by Christians above those faced by Muslims, the Trump administration is opening itself up to claims of being "Christians first," just as it vows to be "America first."

For many of Trump's most ardent followers, the push to offer asylum to Christians persecuted in Muslim-majority nations has been building for more than a decade.

"I agree with the president in prioritizing along religious lines, because the religion of Islam is what does propel the radical jihadists to do what they're doing," said James Linzey, state chaplain for the California Council of Chapters of the Military Officers Association of America. "We are a Christian nation, we were founded as a Christian nation, that's the nature of America."

Meanwhile, other Christian and Jewish leaders opposed the travel ban along with political conservatives such as Charles Koch, who called the action "authoritarian," and Senators John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who said in a statement, "This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country."

For his part, Trump insisted that his order was not a "Muslim ban" like the one he proposed after the San Bernardino terrorist shootings in 2015. It is a focus on terrorists within "countries of particular concern," Trump said.

Critics point out that many countries where terrorists have come from in the past--such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan--are not part of the ban. …

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