On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days, and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Even though the courts have temporarily blocked the President’s actions on immigration and refugees, this is only a temporary halt to the ban. Meanwhile, the mere introduction of these harsh restrictions on immigration and refugee resettlement has serious, long-term consequences for our new political landscape.
I have been encouraged to see many of my fellow Christians and clergy of all faiths denouncing the ban and the halt of refugee resettlement, with some even going as far as to declare the executive orders “not Christian.” I have seen dear friends and colleagues posting about how “Jesus was a dark-skinned, Middle Eastern refugee.” I know, I’ve been saying this for years. I’ve also seen a great deal of quoting from the Bible about how we ought to treat refugees. While I recognize the ways that Scripture can be used to argue both sides of many issues, I absolutely agree that xenophobia has no place in our Holy Scriptures.
One of the things I hear most often in my work is that immigrants need to just “get in line and do it the legal way.” For people who genuinely believe that, I encourage you to educate yourselves on our immigration system. There is no one “line” to get into; it is a process that takes years due to the backlog in our system, and refugee screening is the most extreme vetting process of any group that arrives to the United States. Moreover, many of the people who are affected by this ban are the people who have waited in line, followed the rules, and are here legally. Leaving one’s home is a serious matter, and people have the right to move. When I think of everyone who said that they would move to Canada if one candidate or the other was elected, I’m aware that they felt they had a right to leave their homes and move elsewhere if they were unhappy with the result of our political elections. For those of us who take for granted the right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” that freedom is a given.
Families who are fleeing war-torn countries are among the most needy and vulnerable people on our planet. This includes people not only from countries like Syria which are being devastated by civil war, but also countries in Latin America that have their own civil wars fueled by the drug trade and gang violence. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). As I wrote this blog, Chapel Hill, just a few miles down the street from me, was without safe drinking water and UNC was urging students to leave for the weekend (while at the same time faculty members were asking for greater protections for students in wake of the travel ban). I think about how I have seen the community respond to residents of Chapel Hill, offering them gallons of potable water, showers, and bathroom facilities –but we cannot offer safety and refuge to our neighbors who arrive from other countries or who practice a different religion than our own?
I am not in any way grateful for or approving of this ban; however, if there is anything good to glean from these recent executive orders, it is that we are entering into a national dialogue about what our shared values are and who “deserves” to be here. As a white female, I cannot speak directly to the immigrant experience, yet I would dare to say that being harassed in airports is not new for many people who look like “the other.” What is different is that now people are showing up en masse at airports to protest this discrimination. Islamophobia and racism are not new to America; What is changing in our current political context is that the Trump administration is trying to legalize discrimination, and this cannot be ignored. We have been living as a nation that permits subtle racism and xenophobia; however, this is a galvanizing moment when the truth of our sin of racism is being made clear, and we realize that consequences are unavoidable.
I understand that some people have legitimate safety concerns around our borders but I believe that we can be secure and humane at the same time. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the true neighbor was the one who helped the stranded traveler even when it was costly (Luke10:25-37). The denial of refugees contradicts who we claim to be as a nation, let alone who we say we are as followers of Christ. To turn people away in their deepest moments of need does not reflect the values of a country built on the ideals of liberty and equality. To detain people and keep them away from their families does not represent a land of the free. When we turn away the refugee, we turn away the orphan, the sojourner, people whom we are consistently reminded to care for in scripture. To protect our own safety and way of life at the expense of vulnerable others is to deny the life Jesus lived and the teachings he passed on to us as Christians. Let us be in prayer for our country and all its citizens, show compassion to those who may not be able to see loved ones because of the order, and be quick to listen. I pray that our nation’s leaders will choose to lead with compassion rather than fear.
Jennie Belle is the Director of Immigration and Farmworkers at the NC Council of Churches.