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Catholic Aid Group Calls for Trump to Welcome Refugees, Lift Order

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds his bible while speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

BALTIMORE – A Catholic nonprofit aid organization teamed up with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on Monday to call on President Trump to “withdraw” his executive order that pauses the refugee admissions program for 120 days.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president of Government Relations and Advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said many refugees are fleeing violence and the United States should not deny them entry into the country.

“Catholic Relief Services and all of us here recognize the need for responsible security measures, but those measures cannot come on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world. Denying entry to the most vulnerable is not the answer,” he said at the press conference today with Cardin at the Catholic Relief Services headquarters in Maryland.

According to its official website, Catholic Relief Services works with “local, national and international Catholic institutions and structures, as well as other organizations, to assist people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality.”

Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said Trump’s executive action would ultimately serve as a “recruitment tool” for terrorist organizations and not make the U.S. safer. He called on Congress to pass legislation that deems similar executive actions unacceptable.

“It’s clear our desire is for the president to withdraw this executive order and for Congress to enact legislation that makes it clear that we won’t accept this – or if the courts knock down the legitimacy, the legality of this, we want it gone,” he said at the press conference. “You can’t fix it.”

The executive order also restricted travel for 90 days from seven countries with Muslim majorities. Enforcement of the order has been suspended by the courts while a challenge to its constitutionality is weighed.

O’Keefe said Americans have a “moral obligation” to resettle refugees from areas of strife. He also said Catholic Relief Services “proudly stands” with Muslims and Christians to support refugee programs and continue the tradition of “welcoming a stranger.”

“We work very closely with Muslim partners and Muslim people. They protect us. They partner with us,” he said. “Our country should continue its proud tradition of a refugee system that does not discriminate on the basis of religion. We have a moral obligation as Americans. We are part of the richest and greatest country in the world and we have the obligation and the ability to help those around the world who are the most vulnerable. We urge our government to take up that cross.”

Cardin said the American people “really don’t understand the refugee program” so lawmakers have to put “a face” on the issue. He described refugees seeking entry into the U.S. as “victims” who have been persecuted.

“This nation has always welcomed individuals who have fled their homeland to come here to America to build a stronger America because of their being persecuted. We saw that with the wave of immigration after World War II. We saw that after World War II. We’ve seen it over and over again,” he said.

“They go through a vetting process through the United Nations before we even start our vetting process, and our vetting process goes between 18 and 24 months, requires multiple interviews and background checks by multiple agencies. The individuals who come in through our refugee program are the most screened individuals for any connection that could cause a problem, and if we feel like we don’t have enough information to establish their legitimacy then they don’t come in. So, we are safe. Extreme vetting is already done,” the senator added.

Cardin argued that the federal government should not turn away anyone who arrives at the U.S. border with a “legitimate” asylum claim.

“Turning away legitimate asylum seekers at the border and requiring mandatory detention of families and children will do nothing to make America safer. Such cruel actions will inevitably bring harm and potentially death to survivors of violence and torture, while undermining America’s values and damaging our relationships with our allies,” he said in a statement after the press conference. “I urge my colleagues in Congress to join me in moving forward legislation that makes it absolutely clear that we find such executive actions illegitimate and unacceptable.”