Happy Thanksgiving to Those Who Seek Haven
On Monday, I was privileged to be part of a delegation of Syrian immigrant families, Somali refugees, resettlement agency directors and clergy and community leaders from San Diego County in a meeting with U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. The assembly was convened as an off-the-record conversation on Peters’ vote in support of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, also called the SAFE Act.
While I cannot quote Peters’ comments in the meeting, let me assure you that the substance of what he said was not different than that in the press release he issued to explain his vote last week.
His reason for supporting the legislation was that while the current screening process for refugees is as extensive and secure as one could want, the SAFE Act would have no impact on Syrian or Iraqi (the “covered aliens” of the act) refugee resettlement. He supported the act because President Obama failed to convince him that the bill’s measures—requiring the directors of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Intelligence to unanimously concur that each “covered alien” does not present a security risk—would substantially delay or deter the settlement of Iraqi or Syrian refugees.
Our delegation was unanimous in its rejection of this flimsy rationale, which is simply unsupported by facts. Each of the directors mentioned above testified that it would be nearly impossible to implement the requirements of the SAFE Act. Furthermore, the delegation saw the vote as a thinly veiled attempt to stoke fears of Americans in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.
While fear is real, the threat is not coming from Syrian refugees. All those arrested since the Paris attacks have been European citizens. It is widely acknowledged that any of those involved could have bought a plane ticket to the United States without restrictions because of the visa agreement between the U.S. and the European Union.
Our delegation was unanimous in regard to the negative impact this legislation will have—not only on the Syrian and Iraqi community, but on the entire Muslim community. The implication of the SAFE Act is that all Muslims be excluded from our country in order for us to feel safe. Meanwhile, we have already witnessed a flare-up of xenophobia and racist rantings from political leaders and the U.S. population in general.
In my closing prayer at Monday’s conversation, I invoked the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, that uniquely American occasion to celebrate hospitality and mutual acceptance. I prayed that the true spirit of Thanksgiving would sweep across our nation and that we would remember that it was the hospitality of Native Americans that rescued a ragtag group of European refugees (aka pilgrims) that first winter in Massachusetts. I prayed that this nation would remember its roots and understand that our founding myth is still a valid expression of our core values.
This Thanksgiving, as we sit in the safest, strongest, richest nation the world has ever known, is it asking too much to welcome those who are fleeing death, torture and terror in their homeland?
Some have said that we should accept only Christian refugees from Syria or Iraq. But the Muslim refugees are persecuted by Islamic State and subjected to every kind of horror imaginable, because that extremist group regards other Muslims as apostates (faith traitors). Lest we forget, the pilgrims who fled England four centuries ago were escaping oppression at the hands of other Christians.
If that is not reason enough, then not I but Jesus would offer this direction to those who think that Muslim refugees might represent a threat to our nation and way of life: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. … If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even [Islamic State members] love those who love them.” Amen, Jesus.
And finally, as we enter the Advent season of hope, is there really no room in the inn for the children, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers fleeing death in Syria and Iraq? If we truly are a Christian nation, this is when it matters most.
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