[Episcopal News Service] The presiding bishop and the director of Episcopal Migration Ministries both spoke out Jan. 25 in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s actions on immigration.
In addition, the Episcopal Public Policy Network issued a policy alert offering Episcopalians ways to become advocates on immigration and refugees.
Those efforts came on a day when Trump signed executive orders to begin construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and block federal grants from immigrant-protecting “sanctuary cities.” The Washington Post reported that Trump, in an appearance at the Department of Homeland Security, also signed the first of a series of directives to put new restrictions on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.
Trump aides suggested that more directives could come later this week, according to the Post, including additional restrictions on people from Muslim-majority countries. The newspaper reported that it had received a leaked draft of a presidential executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” that calls for halting visas to people located in “countries of particular concern.” The newspaper said the order would fulfill a Trump campaign promise to start vetting would-be immigrants and visitors to the United States based partly on their opinions and ideology, and will immediately cease the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry; the Rev. E. Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries; and the public policy network spoke out against those anticipated actions.
Curry said refugee resettlement work is a ministry that the Episcopal Church and other churches and faith-based organizations cherish.
“The work of Episcopal Migration Ministries is God’s work, and we show the face of God through the care and compassion in that work,” Curry said. “I ask President Trump to continue the powerful work of our refugee resettlement program without interruption, recognizing the long wait and screening process that means refugees wait months and sometimes years to enter the country.
“We ask that we continue to accept as many refugees as we have in the past, recognizing the need is greater than ever. We ask that refugees from all countries receive consideration to come to the U.S. and not to ban those who come from countries most in need of our assistance.”
Stevenson said any action to suspend the U.S. refugee resettlement program for a significant time “will mean that many of those who are the most vulnerable, the most at risk of further violence, the least likely to be able to fend for themselves, are now to be left without hope.”
“Such a position does not reflect who we are as a nation, or as a people of faith,” he said.
Each year the Episcopal Church’s Episcopal Migration Ministries works in partnership with its 30-member local affiliate network in 26 states, along with dioceses, faith communities and volunteers, to welcome refugees from conflict zones across the globe. This year, EMM anticipated welcoming 5,000 refugees to the United States from 32 countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Afghanistan and Syria.
The agency assures safe passage and provides vital services for thousands of refugee families upon their arrival in America, including language and cultural orientation classes, employment services, school enrollment and initial assistance with housing and transportation. For each family, the goal is self-reliance and self-determination.
EMM is one of nine such U.S. resettlement agencies that contract with the federal government to help resettle refugees approved for entry to the United States. Much of EMM funding comes through those contracts.
Stevenson said Trump’s anticipated restrictions on refugees would be characterized as steps to make the country safe. “Yet, isolating ourselves from the world does not make us safer; it only isolates us,” he said. “Being afraid of those who differ from us does not make us wise, or even prudent; it only traps us in an echo chamber of suspicion and anger, and stops us cold from loving as Christ loved.”
The United States cannot solve the problem of violence in other countries, Stevenson said, but “we can act morally and show leadership” by offering refugees a new life in a safe place. He pledged that EMM will “continue to minister to those who have fled their homes because of persecution, violence or war.”
“Through our network of affiliates across this country, and with the help of the wider Episcopal Church, we will welcome these men, women, and children who did not choose to become refugees,” Stevenson said. “In partnership with the other resettlement agencies, we will work with our government and local communities to provide a place of welcome.”
EMM had previously scheduled a webinar at 4 p.m. EST on Feb. 1 to discuss the causes of refugee crises and examine questions such as who is a refugee; how a refugee is resettled to the United States; how resettled refugees benefit their communities; and how people can engage with local communities to welcome refugees.
“The president has full authority to limit the number of refugees each year,” EPPN said in its policy alert. “It is critical that President Trump hear from faith leaders that oppose any kind of ban or drastic reduction on resettlement.”
The alert called on Episcopalians to speak against any policy that would bar refugees from resettlement based on religion or nationality, and encourage our government not to reduce the number of refugees who enter the United States.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.