Bishops disturbed by calls to end resettlement of Syrian refugees
By Catholic News Service
The head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration said he was disturbed by calls from federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris,” said Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee. “They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.”
In a statement issued Nov. 17 during the bishops’ general assembly in Baltimore, Bishop Elizondo offered condolences to the French people, especially families of the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris in which at least 129 people were killed and hundreds were injured. He said he supported “all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again — both in France and around the world.”
But addressing calls from some governors and federal officials — including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin — to pause or halt refugee resettlement until the U.S. can ensure the safety of its citizens, Bishop Elizondo said refugees “must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States — more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need.”
He urged public officials to work together to end the conflict in Syria so the country’s nearly 4 million refugees can return home.
“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. As a great nation, the United States must show leadership during this crisis and bring nations together to protect those in danger and bring an end to the conflicts in the Middle East,” he said.
In a separate statement, the bishops of Texas said they “pray for our leaders to show judicious discernment to find a means to help those genuine refugees who struggle to find shelter from the violence of their homelands. We must not forget that we are a nation of immigrants.”
The Texas bishops acknowledged that every government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from violent aggressors; however, “we must not be led by our fears, but guided by our mercy and prudence to develop a means to protect refugees while also protecting ourselves at home,” the Texas bishops stated.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, said although refugees’ backgrounds must be checked carefully, “it would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim.”
“Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion,” the bishop said. “In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria.”
The U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, Catholic Relief Services, emphasized how carefully refugees are vetted in a five-point post called “5 Reasons Not to Punish Syrian Refugees for the Paris Attacks.”
“The refugees are not ISIS,” it said, referring to them as allies in the fight against Islamic State.
In her Nov. 17 report to the bishops about the work of Catholic Charities USA, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, the organization’s president and CEO, said the refugee crisis is serious and Catholic Charities agencies want to do what they can to welcome these refugees in the U.S.
She said she has met with White House officials about this but she has also seen a negative reaction to the agency’s offer to help with “disturbing mail” sent from people who don’t want the refugees in this country.
“We’re ready to help, if we can get them here,” she said, stressing that Catholic Charities agencies represent the church’s ministry that Pope Francis described as a field hospital.