By Cian Molloy - 30 January, 2017
On Friday, the President issued an executive order that shut down the country’s refugee admissions programme for 120 days, more than halved the number of refugees to be allowed into the US this year from 110,000 to 50,000, and indefinitely suspended the resettlement of Syrian refugees, tens of thousands of whom are fleeing the continuing civil war in that country.
Additionally, the order puts a temporary ban on anyone entering the US if they are from seven named countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – all of which are Muslim-majority states. And US refugee admissions policy has been changed to give priority to those who belong to religious minorities, that is, refugee applications from those belonging to a majority religion have been de-prioritised.
“We strongly disagree with the Executive Orders halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Migration.
“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 ban on Syrian refugees and the prioritisation of refugees belonging to religious minorities, Bishop Vásquez said: “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.
“Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the US 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.”
Separately, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, described the executive orders as “a dark moment in US history”. He said: “The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values. Have we not repeated the disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized and excluded? We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we have been on the other side of such decisions.
“These actions impose a sweeping and immediate halt on migrants and refugees from several countries, people who are suffering, fleeing for their lives. Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States.
“They make an exception for Christians and non-Muslim minorities, but not for Muslim refugees fleeing for their lives. Ironically, this ban does not include the home country of fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers. Yet, people from Iraq, even those who assisted our military in a destructive war, are excluded.
“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.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego also commented on the situation, saying, “This week is just such a shameful moment of abandonment for the United States. The executive order is the introduction into law of campaign sloganeering rooted in xenophobia and religious prejudice. Its devastating consequences are already apparent for those suffering most in our world, for our standing among nations, and for the imperative of rebuilding unity within our country rather than tearing us further apart.
“This week the Statue of Liberty lowered its torch in a presidential action which repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression. We cannot and will not stand silent.”
On Sunday afternoon, Fr Quinn Connors, a Carmelite priest, celebrated Mass with more than 500 people outside the gates of the White House in Washington DC, in solidarity with refugees.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, the Catholic bishops there have responded to the news that President Trump is going ahead with plans to build a wall along the 3,143 km-long southern border between Mexico and the US. “The first thing that hurts us is that many people who live their relationship of family, faith, work or friendship, will be blocked by this inhuman interference,” said Bishop Guillermo Ortiz Mondragón of Cuautitlán, president of the Mexican Bishops’ Committee for Migrants. “As Church that walks in Mexico, we will continue to support our brothers and sisters from Central and South America, who are in transit through our country, towards the United States.”
Prayer for Unaccompanied Migrant Children
Mary, you traveled alone
To reach the loving embrace
Of your beloved family member.
Elizabeth welcomed you with
Open arms and an open heart.
Be with those children
Who are traveling across borders
To seek solace with family.
Protect them from exploitation
And from traumatizing experiences.
Teach us by
The example of the Visitation.
Grant us open arms
And open hearts
To receive your children
Trying to find the way
To a new, life-giving home.
Mary, Mother of the human family,
Help us end the misery
Of children separated from family
By man-made borders
But not by love.
May they arrive, as you did,
To joy and to the benediction
Of a loving embrace.