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Religious leaders criticise Trump immigration ban

31 January 2017


Relief: a woman is embraced by her son-in-law at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, on Sunday. Her son-in-law said that she had travelled from Iran and been detained after arriving

Relief: a woman is embraced by her son-in-law at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, on Sunday. Her son-in-law said that she had travelled from Iran ...

CHRISTIAN leaders have decried President Trump’s executive order on immigration, which includes a temporary ban for people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Christian charities have expressed concern about his suggestion that priority be given to Christian refugees.

“Judging an entire culture or a religion or a nation by the actions of extremists within it does not make us a strong leader in the world,” warned the director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), Canon E. Mark Stevenson. “It stains our soul with a self-righteousness that grieves the heart of God.”

The order (“Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States”), issued on Friday, represents a climb-down on President Trump’s campaign pledge to ban all Muslims’ entering the country. He has banned for at least 90 days travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. He has also suspended the Refugees Admission Programme for 120 days, while a review of screening procedures is conducted. Once resumed, the number of admissions will not exceed 50,000, in 2017 (down from 110,000).

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, issued a statement asking President Trump to reverse all three elements and highlighting as “God’s work” the efforts of EMM, the Episcopal Church’s refugee-resettlement programme.

“This decision 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,” Canon Stevenson said. “Such a position does not reflect who we are as a nation, or as a people of faith. . . 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.”

More than 2000 religious leaders have signed a letter to the President in support of refugee resettlement. It decries “derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors”.

Imam Omar Suleiman of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research said that President Trump was “trying to overwhelm us and he cannot be allowed to succeed. We cannot be shocked into paralysis. Whatever you can get involved with and push back on, do so. He’s working fast, we need to work furiously. Please keep all of the people and organizations that will be affected in your prayers.”

A survey last week by Rasmussen Reports, a polling company, found that 56 per cent of voters supported the temporary ban.

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW,” President Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world — a horrible mess!” He later tweeted: “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!”

In an interview on Friday with CBN, a Christian news site, he suggested that persecuted Christians would be given priority in the refugee programme.

“Do you know, if you were a Christian in Syria, it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States?” he said. “If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible, and the reason that was so unfair — everybody was persecuted, in all fairness — but they were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair.”

The order itself directs the Secretary of State “to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.

“President Trump rightly recognises the incredible rise in persecution of Christians,” the CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, Lisa Pearce, said. “Expediting refugee entry for those intentionally targeted by ISIS, like the Yazidis and Christians and some Muslim groups, seems appropriate. However, prioritising one religion over another only exacerbates the already severe worldwide trend of religious persecution. We encourage a need-based approach that treats all faiths equally and works toward the comprehensive strengthening of religious freedom around the world.”

“To follow Christian teaching means to welcome people in need — whatever their faith — not prioritise people who happen to share one’s own beliefs,” the head of advocacy at Christian Aid, Tom Viita, said. “A rejection of refugees, whatever their faith, is a rejection of Christian values. Trump would do well to read his Bible before enacting discriminatory policies.”

In a statement issued on Sunday, President Trump defended the order. The claim that the order was a “Muslim ban” was false, he said.

“This is not about religion. This is about terror and keeping our country safe. . . I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”

A press release, also issued by the White House on Sunday, said that the immigration system in the US — “the world’s most generous” — had been “repeatedly exploited by terrorists and other malicious actors who seek to do us harm”.

The CATO Institute reports that foreigners from the seven designated countries killed no Americans in terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and the end of 2015. Seventeen had been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on US soil.

Some Christians have defended Mr Trump’s actions.

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, told Huffington Post. “We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

“There seems to be more smoke and noise,” Eric Metaxas, a radio host and author, told The Atlantic. “Trafficking in cliches about ‘love’ over “hate” will not bring morality or sanity to our foreign or domestic policy. . . A temporary ban on immigration is a temporary ban on immigration. It is not the demonisation of any group. It is a sober decision that is meant to help us make further sober decisions in future.”

The order, which resulted in the detention of some passengers in transit, has met with protests and legal challenges. Federal judges issued orders blocking deportations and on Tuesday it was announced that President Trump had fired the acting US Attorney General, Sally Yates, after she refused to enforce the order.

Protests spread to the UK, where thousands demonstrated outside Downing Street on Monday. During a lengthy debate in the House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said that the “highly controversial” ban was “not an approach that this Government would take”. But he emphasised the “vital importance” of the alliance with the US and rejected comparisons between President Trump and Hitler and Mussolini as “distasteful”. To use the language of appeasement “demeans the horror of the 1930s and trivialises our conversation”. On Twitter he described the ban as “divisive and wrong”.

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, Bishop Angaelos, wrote on Monday of the balance to be struck between security and refuge: “As a Church that frequently finds itself at the receiving end of lethal terrorist:attacks, we understand far too well the need to protect communities and individuals. . . however, we must not do so in a way that compromises our integrity or goes against the humaneness with which we must address the vast majority of those who do not directly or indirectly advocate for, aspire to, or inflict harm on others.”

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, is among the 1.6 million people who have signed an online petition stating that, while President Trump should be allowed to enter the UK, he should not be invited to make an official State Visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen”.

The ban sits among a flurry of executive orders issued since the President’s inauguration on 20 January. On Thursday of last week, he issued an executive order for the “immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism”. Individuals whose legal claims to remain are rejected must be removed promptly, it says.

Another executive order argues that “sanctuary jurisdictions” — areas where the local government has adopted a policy of not prosecuting undocumented immigrants for violating immigration laws, numbering more than 400 cities and counties — “willfully violate Federal law” and directs that they will be stripped of Federal funds.

The chairman of the US RC bishops’ Committee on Migration, the Bishop of Austin, the Rt Revd Joe Vasquez, said that the wall would “make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country”.

“Every day my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries,” he said. “We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatised children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”


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