US religious leaders make forceful appeals to admit refugees

ASSOCIATED PRESS
KANSAS CITY
Published 22.11.2015 22:30

Leaders of major American religious groups have condemned proposed bans on Syrian refugees, contending a legitimate debate over security has been overtaken by irrational fear and prejudice. Top organizations representing evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and liberal Protestants say close vetting of asylum seekers is a critical part of forming policy on refugees. But these religious leaders say such concerns, heightened after the Paris attacks a week ago, do not warrant blocking those fleeing violence in the Middle East. "The problem is not the Syrian refugees," said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who noted how his state has welcomed a large number of Cuban refugees over the years. "This is falling into the trap of what the terrorists wanted us to become. We shouldn't allow them to change who we are as a people." About 70 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. are resettled by faith groups, according to the U.S. State Department office for refugees. Lawmakers and more than half of U.S. governors, mostly Republicans, have said they were worried extremists may try to take advantage of the U.S. refugee process. Some governors are refusing Syrian refugee settlement in their states for now. Refugees already go through a comprehensive vetting process that can take as much as three years, including biometric screening, fingerprinting and additional classified controls. Some lawmakers are now demanding even tougher assessments. The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, said in a Facebook post that new immigration policies are needed because "We cannot allow Muslim immigrants to come across our borders unchecked while we are fighting this war on terror." Still, many faith leaders who share those security concerns are condemning the tone of the current discussion. The Orthodox Union said "we encourage a sensible process of reviewing and enhancing security," with the goal of "getting to yes" on admitting asylum seekers. But the group said, "Neither partisan politics nor xenophobia can have a place in that debate."

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