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We cannot turn our backs on refugees

Especially those facing political and religious persecution

Archbishop Thomas Wenski wrote this as an op-ed for the secular press. The Miami Heraldpublished it Oct. 28, 2020. That same day, the White House posted the Presidential Determination referenced in the column, signed by President Trump.

A sense of belonging — of being attached to particular people and places — gives shape to our identity and provides security in which to grow. As human beings we long to belong — to a family, to a community, and to a nation. Yet, today there are millions of people who because of religious or political persecution have been uprooted — separated from their families, their communities and the lands of their birth.

We might see them as “outsiders,” strangers, not “one of us.” But our nation is made up of such people — from the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock to the Vietnamese, Haitians and Cubans of more recent years. These people are strangers no longer but fellow citizens because America knew how to embrace them and gave them a place to belong and to grow: E pluribus unum, “out of many one.”

Yet, today, refugees escaping religious or political persecution are left in harm’s way. Many are waiting to be reunited with their families already in the U.S. The plight of Venezuelans or the democracy fighters in Hong Kong are generally known but less known or acknowledged are refugees fleeing religious persecution.

Protection of religious minorities, including Christians, is an extremely important issue for Catholics as well as Evangelicals. President Trump has rightly made protecting religious freedom a priority of his Administration. Yet, the number of refugees fleeing religious persecution who have received U.S. resettlement has decreased dramatically. Since 2015, there has been an 89.7% decrease in the resettlement of Christians from the top 50 countries perpetuating religious persecution, including a 97.1% decrease in the number of Iranian Christians and a 94.5% decrease in Iraqi Christians[MH1] .There has also been a disturbing reduction in welcoming refugees of other faiths: a 100% decrease in the number of Jews resettled from Iraq and Iran and a 95% decrease of Muslims from Burma.

The Refugee Act of 1980 has required that by October 1st of each year, the President set for the coming year, the annual number of refugees admitted to the U.S. This process is known as a Presidential Determination. While Administration has signaled that it plans to resettle some 5,000 refugees fleeing religious persecution in 2021, President Trump has not yet issued the Presidential Determination. No refugees will be able to come unless and until the President formally issues his Presidential Determination.

As Catholics we defend the right to life of the unborn child. But we also defend the life and dignity of every person — and vulnerable refugees fleeing persecution, human trafficking or torture have a special claim on our consciences. For we are the spiritual descendants of the ancient Israelites who themselves knew what it was to be “outsiders” yearning to belong.

God spoke to them and still speaks to us: “Love the stranger then for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

President Trump, sign the Presidential Determination.