Guest editorial: Balance security and compassion, but respect refugees

Syrian children at a refugee camp in Lebanon. (Photo by Texas Baptists Communications)

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Daniel entered the United States through the Refugee Resettlement Program in 2011 after spending five years in a refugee processing center. He did not have any family in this country and barely spoke English, but through his church, he has both learned English and gained a family. He’s studying to become a registered nurse while working full-time and wants what we all want—the opportunity to fulfill his dreams.

Kathryn Freeman 150Kathryn Freeman

He’s finally gotten that opportunity, in part because of the support from his church and in part because America is the land of freedom and opportunity.

President Trump has announced changes to the Refugee Resettlement Program that jeopardize the opportunity of others like Daniel and diminish the reach of churches like Daniel’s, which have sought to welcome and care for refugees.

Compelled to speak

We feel compelled to speak out because we cannot close our eyes to the humanitarian need—more than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes—surrounding us.

Patty Lane 150Patty LaneWhile we respect President Trump’s desire to keep Americans safe, we are concerned his executive order fuels unfounded fears about refugees and the safety of the current Refugee Resettlement Program.

The current vetting process has a strong record. Since the Refugee Act was passed in 1980, not a single American life has been lost to a terrorist attack committed by someone who came to the United States through the country’s Refugee Resettlement Program. Research by the Cato Institute has assessed the odds of an American being killed in any given year by a refugee-turned-terrorist at one in 3.64 billion.

Unfounded fears

While fueling unfounded fears, the executive order has had the practical effect of creating confusion and uncertainty for families who already have been waiting several months and in some cases years to be reunited or to reach safety in America. Some lawmakers have issued statements urging President Trump to reconsider his blanket halt on all refugees and his indefinite ban of Syrian refugees. We applaud them, but others have been silent or refused to voice concerns.

This is a complex issue—one that should involve broad consideration by our government regarding the impact on those fleeing violence and persecution across the world.

We are worried about the signal this order sends to refugees around the world who have looked to America as a beacon of hope, as well as to those refugees already in our midst, with whom we sit and serve every Sunday. While the order does not include an explicit ban on Muslims, the language in Section 5 would give preference to minority religions, and we believe decisions about refugees fleeing religious persecution should be made solely based on persecution and not preference of some religious groups over others.

Dignity of all people

We affirm the dignity of all people—Christian or otherwise—and do not wish to see policy decisions that would leave families in danger or divided simply because they do not share our faith. Religious liberty is one of the bedrock principles of our democracy and one of the unique founding principles of our country.

We stand with refugees out of a calling to follow Christ and to serve those in need—“the stranger among us.” In fact, Scripture repeatedly calls us to welcome, love and seek justice for refugees and other foreigners.

We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Lest we be tempted to narrowly define who our “neighbor” is, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, one who inconvenienced himself to care for someone in need who was of a different ethnicity and religion. Jesus’ command to us is to “go and do likewise.”

The faith-inspired spirit of welcome and love is what makes America great in the first place. We want for our refugee neighbors the same thing Daniel wanted, and the thing Mary and Joseph wanted for Jesus when they fled to Egypt—safety and the ability to live out their calling.

Given the limited risk and the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis we are facing, we hope others will join us as we prayerfully request President Trump to reconsider the scope and effect of this order and to work with congressional leadership to devise a solution that bolsters American security without causing unnecessary delays for refugees fleeing violence or disregarding traditional American values.

Kathryn Freeman is director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. She lives in Austin and has worked in advocacy and public policy more than nine years. 

Patty Lane is director of intercultural ministries for Texas Baptists. She is the author of A Beginners Guide to Crossing Cultures and a sought-after conference leader who has spoken internationally on cross-cultural ministry.

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