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July 23, 2017
Don't lose your humanity in refugee debate, US bishops say
Syrian refugee. Credit: thomas koch via Shutterstock.
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.- The intense debate over U.S. refugee and migrant policy is a chance to meet newcomers and understand others' concerns, the country's bishops have said, warning against fear and mistreatment of others.

“It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity,” said the March 22 statement from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' administrative committee.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: 'We are with you.'”

Immigrant or refugee families may themselves be seeking security from extremist violence, the bishops said. Their statement, titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” aimed to voice solidarity with those who have fled their homes because of violence, conflict or fear.

The statement comes at a time of significant debate over U.S. refugee and immigration policy under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on more restrictive policies.

His latest executive order on refugees calls for a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions and an entry ban on most foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries. The order caps refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, a decline from 85,000 in fiscal year 2016.

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the temporary refugee ban and the travel ban from taking effect. The Hawaii-based federal district court said the state of Hawaii's lawsuit against the travel ban made a strong enough case that it unfairly discriminated against Muslims seeking entry into the U.S. and that the ban would significantly injure the state’s tourism industry and university system.

President Trump's other executive orders have sought an increase in immigrant detention centers  and the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. bishops' statement welcomed debate over policy, but criticized the “rhetoric of fear.”

“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked. “Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children.”

Catholics need to show solidarity for migrants and refugees, the bishops said. They should pray for an end to the root causes of violence that cause people to flee.

“Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own,” the statement said. “Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and help them know their rights.”

“It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

The bishops urged Catholics to call their elected representatives and “ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

They placed immigration debate in a Christian context.

“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

They cited the Biblical command not to mistreat alien residents, in the Book of Leviticus: “you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Another source for the bishops was Pope Francis’ comments that migration is “that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued.”

“For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland,” the Pope said.