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Making haste

Making haste

Demonstrators at Philadelphia International Airport protest against Trump’s executive order on immigration. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

Starting with the earliest Biblical texts, God said to love the sojourner. He never said it would be easy.

Security concerns about terrorists entering the United States as refugees or on immigration visas began to climb after Americans watched Muslim jihadists wage attacks in Europe—starting with coordinated strikes in Paris in November 2015. That month presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, and 31 governors—all Republicans but one—quickly followed, saying they would not allow U.S. officials to resettle refugees from Syria in their state.

Even after the Paris attacker thought to be a Syrian refugee turned out not to be, as initially reported, the concern stuck as ISIS stated it intended to infiltrate the West with terrorists posing as refugees. Trump would later modify his position away from an outright ban on Muslim immigrants, but it was no surprise he would take action to tighten rules concerning refugee and immigrant arrivals.

The surprise was the way he did it. Without formal consultation with Congress or executive branch agencies, President Trump issued the directive at 4:42 p.m. on Jan. 27, suspending at that moment all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, and barring entry for 90 days immigrants from seven terrorist hot spots.

The order calls on Cabinet officers (most not yet confirmed by Congress) to carry out an extensive review of policies and cuts by half the total number of refugees expected to be admitted in 2017.

“We knew it was coming, but we did not anticipate a total shutdown,” said Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, the humanitarian organization founded under the National Association of Evangelicals and one of the nine agencies that contract with the State Department to resettle refugees. Hundreds of refugees already were in transit to the United States that weekend, with housing and other needs arranged by voluntary church organizations and others.

The immediate effect was to deny entry to refugees whose cases the government had resolved—most involving a two- to three-year interview and vetting process—not only from terror-producing states but from war-torn countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and police states like Myanmar. Under public pressure, the Trump administration later said it would allow into the country 872 refugees who were already in transit. With the federal fiscal year underway since last October, the executive order caps refugees this year at 50,000, down from more than 100,000. More than 32,000 already have arrived since the start of the fiscal year last October, leaving little room for new cases once a review and suspension end.

The order also meant denying upon arrival entry to legal immigrants and nonimmigrants with valid visas. At New York’s JFK airport, among the first in that category were two Iraqis with more than a decade’s experience serving alongside U.S. military personnel and contractors and facing death threats as a result.

While confusion reigned at international airports and among immigration officials, Trump championed the new policy, saying it will particularly aid persecuted Christians from the Middle East: “They’ve been horribly treated,” he told Christian Broadcasting Network the day the order took effect.

Advocates for the persecuted also pushed back against characterizing the order as a “Muslim ban” or favoring Christians. By targeting “religious minorities,” said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, the order may prioritize Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, Iran’s Baha’is, or Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims.

Solar/ACE Pictures/Newscom

Hameed Khalid Darweesh (Solar/ACE Pictures/Newscom)

For now it’s producing ongoing legal battles. Within 24 hours a federal judge in Brooklyn issued a stay on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a detained Iraqi translator. Three other federal judges elsewhere followed, issuing injunctions on detention and deportation for specific individuals arriving in their jurisdictions. Of about 350 estimated detained, most were released, including Darweesh, but the legal fight is just underway. The Justice Department—its top staff in transition—faces a Feb. 10 deadline to respond to the first suit.

The order bars entry to the United States from seven countries restricted under a 2016 Obama visa waiver program because of their terrorism problems: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. This meant denied entry for Iraqi Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi lawmaker whose emotional speech in Parliament in 2014 helped prompt President Obama to take action against ISIS. Dakhil was set to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 8.

Officials also denied entry to the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil in Iraq, Bashar Warda, whose church has given shelter to thousands of displaced Iraqis and who has served as a spokesman for nearly 200,000 Christians displaced by ISIS in 2014.

“For a lot of reasons, we don’t think this order will help protect persecuted Christians,” said Soerens, “and our Christian faith compels us to help others as well.”

—with reporting by Emily Belz


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  • Traci
    Posted: Fri, 02/03/2017 09:42 am

    As individuals, we ARE called to care for travelers among us. And the President is called to protect our culture and people.  World and its staff clearl have a heart for refugees, but they don't need to be relocated HERE to be cared for by the Christian community. 

  • Wayne Asbury
    Posted: Fri, 02/03/2017 05:42 pm

    Your statement, " World and its staff clearly have a heart for refugees, but they don't need to be relocated HERE to be cared for by the Christian community." is troubling because it reminds me of how my grandparents generation used the same excuse for turning away ships full of Jewish refugees trying to escape Hitler's Holocaust.  If these people,  many of whom merely want to survive, cannot find a haven in the land of opportunity, where can they go to find it?  I'm proud that World cares enough to write articles like this because without hands-on compassion what point is there in being a Christian community?

  • Juliann O'Quinn
    Posted: Fri, 02/03/2017 11:13 am

    “For a lot of reasons, we don’t think this order will help protect persecuted Christians,” ......well, what are some of those reasons? I'm pretty tired of unfounded rhetoric. Give me a minimum (a lot?) of 3 reasoned, please. 

  • RMF
    Posted: Fri, 02/03/2017 11:09 pm

    I agree with Traci. I sympathize with the Muslim refugees on a few levels, the biggest being that in my opinion they are victims of one of the most monstrous deceptions ever perpetrated on the human race--Islam. Another reason is that many of their their so-called Arab brothers and sisters in the Gulf states are funding and supplying the very conflicts they are fleeing, and at the same time slamming shut their borders to them. The result is that these millions  of people flood NATO and bordering countries, further destabilizing  NATO borders and straining relations. I view these actions in the same way the  President sees them, as a deliberate and real and present danger to our values, our Judeao-Christian cultures, and everything that is borne out of them.  So I'm fine with his policy and hope it is extended to more of those nations. I hope our friends in Europe follow suit. 


  • Wayne Asbury
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 10:42 am

    I cannot agree with your conclusions, because I spent the majority of my teenage years in Communist China where too many Christians wanted the same thing you seem to want.  Freedom to practice Christianity without freedom to pracitice Islam, Buddhism, Hindu or any of the other minority religions.  The big question for me is once you start down the slippery  slope of discriminating against any religious group where do you say "Stop"?  I am a small town Protestant pastor who is certainly not sympathetic  to Islam and its many abuses. But I'm also well aware that the world has more and more people who do not share my faith and have very little sympathy for what they call "the intolerant hate speech"  of Biblical preaching.  So please understand this is not a defence of Islam but rather the teaching of Jesus that we should treat people the way we want to be treated.  I want people to allow me the freedom to live out my faith. So how could I refuse another person basic rights like freedom to travel and immigrate to another country merely because they have a different set of beliefs that I consider false and flawed?

  • RMF
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 09:59 pm

    Greetings Wayne, 

    You''re right, it's a slippery slope. But the thing about slippery slopes is that you draw the line and say, this is the end of the slope. That's what we have in this situation. The end of the slope is refugees and visas from only 7 countries where conditions have given rise to militant, murderous Islam--countries which in these cases are currently and have for years (if not decades) been, avowed enemies of the United States. These policies do not apply to our citizens.

    We are admonished and commanded to turn the other cheek and treat others as we would be treated. But we can't nor should we, allow this basic principle of our faith to be used against us to subvert or harm the very faith and institutions that allow us to flourish. If we do we are then become not martyrs, but enablers of our own downfall. 

  • Wayne Asbury
    Posted: Sun, 02/05/2017 09:04 pm

    Thank you for replying so clearly and courteously.  I agree with you that Christ-like love doesn't mean we should allow our enemies to trample over us.  But neither do I believe that everyone in those 7 countries hates America and is our enemy. Especially when we know that some of these people who were trying to immigrate have put their lives at risk working for the very government that just shut the door in their face. 

    We obviously don't agree, and probably won't agree, on whether or not this piece of legislation was a good idea.  But if you are right and this is the end of the slope we will both be relieved.  Thanks for replying and explaining your view a little more fully.

  • DV
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 01:41 am

    Wayne, I am so pleased with your comments and thoughts. I don't personally know anyone who's facing these immigration issues, but you and Ms. Belz sound and feel like the heartbeat of God. Dani

  •  JEFF's picture
    Posted: Sun, 02/19/2017 08:53 pm

    What complicates the matter even more is our socialist theology. This equates loving our neighbor by forced redistribution of income.